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Paramount Studios presents
"When a gambler lets his game end up in a killing, pretty soon he don't have a game."
DVD ReviewA tried and true method of pumping a little life into a genre on its last legs is to combine it with another genre. The traditional western was on its way out in the late 1960s, shortly to be rejuvenated by the ironic detachment of the 1970s version of the genre. But in 1968, the best thing available seemed to be combining the western with the mystery.
A game of five card stud in 1880 Rincon, Colorado, presided over by gambler Van Morgan (Dean Martin) gets a bit out of hand when a tinhorn decides to improve his chances by palming an ace. The rest of the table, led by Nick Evers (Roddy McDowall) defies Morgan, who recognizes lynchings are bad for business, and hangs the tinhorn. When Morgan moves on to Denver, the men at the table start to get killed one by one through a variety of means of strangulation. Morgan returns to learn whether the killer picking them all off is one of the men at the table, or an outsider who somehow learned about the deadly poker game. Nick is crazy enough to do it, and the new parson in town, Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum) has an odd fondness for cleaning up Rincon by carrying a gun. Or does it have something to do with the "tonsorial parlor" run by Lily Langford (Inger Stevens)?
The best part of the film is the cast. Martin slides easily into the role of the charming scoundrel. Robert Mitchum is at his best playing dark preachers, such as in Night of the Hunter. The supporting cast is generally good as well, with stalwarts like McDowall, Yaphet Kotto, Denver Pyle and Whit Bissell holding up the edges of the story. Longtime veteran of westerns Henry Hathaway is capable enough at the helm, getting the job done without being flashy. The pacing is good overall, with no dull moments.
The main weakness is the romantic interest between Martin and Stevens. The two don't have much credible chemistry, and at one point she asks him to give her a kiss that will last a week. He goes through the motions, but there's no genuine passion visible at all. A political subtext falls flat as well, for there's a throwaway segment about a union of miners in the area.
While not particularly gory, there is an abundance of killing, particularly when the town of Rincon starts to get paranoid. Fueled by Nick, the townspeople and area miners are soon blasting away at each other and the law through nothing more than suspicion. While making a good argument for gun control, the sequence is also resolved by the Reverend using his guns to quell the riot.
The title game is of course a metaphor for the Ten Little Indians-like murder mystery. Although most of the cards are on the table and visible to Morgan, there is still the hole card that remains a mystery. Not until he is willing to call the killer's bluff can he see what the killer's hand really is.
By no means a classic of either genre, Five Card Stud is entertaining enough. As westerns go, you could do a lot worse.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture looks quite good overall. The Technicolor is pretty, with clear detail throughout. There is an expected amount of grain and moderate speckling. Black levels are very nice. Though the source print could be better, this looks quite nice for a film of its vintage.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: English and French 2.0 mono tracks are provided. They are clear and sound fine, without noticeable noise or hiss. The theme song, sung by Martin, sounds good enough, though it doesn't pack any particular punch. Maurice Jarre's score lends an ominous western flavor to the proceedings, with liberal use of honky-tonk piano and xylophone. Serviceable, without significant defects.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: Nothing at all for extras. English subtitles and barely adequate chaptering are there for a most basic frill-free disc.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAn entertaining western mystery, with some fun performances and plenty of violence, though not excessively bloody. No extras, but a good transfer.
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