Sheesh… am I in some kind of And Then There Were None loop here?
A few days back I saw the mini-series based on the famous Agatha Christie novel (you can read that review here), then yesterday I wrote a review of the 1985 movie Clue, which I realized was a comedic take on that same novel (you can read that review here), and last night I saw the 1968 film 5 Card Stud which, while not an obvious adaptation on Agatha Christie’s novel, sure seemed to have been shaped by it… to a degree.
Here’s the movie’s trailer:
The movie’s plot goes like this: One night in a small town in the wild west, a group of gamblers, including Dean Martin’s Van Morgan and Roddy McDowall’s Nick Evers, are playing a game of (I’ll give you three guesses) 5 card stud.
Van Morgan takes a breather and while he’s gone, the others continue their game. During that time, Nick Evers realizes the out-of-towner who is playing with the regulars is cheating. In a rage, he and the others grab the man and head out to lynch him.
Van Morgan returns to find the group of plays has just left and is aghast that they’re going to lynch the man.
He rides after them and arrives just as they’re preparing the rope to hang the unfortunate man. He tries to talk the lynch mob down but Nick Evers, revealed to be a nihilistic hot-head, knocks Van Morgan out and the unfortunate out-of-towner is lynched.
The lynch mob retreats back to the town, bringing along with them the unconscious Van Morgan. They unceremoniously dump him near the bar he lives in and where the out-of-towner played his very last game.
He’s taken to his room to recover and, the next day, the lynching is discovered by the law.
The 5 card stud players, including Van Morgan, keep quiet about whodunnit and Van Morgan, after confronting and knocking out Nick Evers, decides he no longer wants to live in this town and departs.
Once gone, a preacher (Robert Mitchum, in what amounts to a extended cameo, even though he’s listed as the movie’s co-star) arrives in town and sets up his parish.
Soon after, one of the poker players is found dead.
Van Morgan reads about the killings and returns to town and the mystery of who is killing the card players …er… plays out.
(Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have your And Then There Were None similarities!)
So 5 Card Stud is essentially a wild west murder mystery. The screenplay, by Marguerite Roberts was adapted from a novel by Ray Gaulden is full of interesting bits of dialogue. Ms. Roberts, it should be noted, was a long standing Hollywood screenwriter. Her first work was Sailor’s Luck from all the way back in 1933 and she immediately followed up the screenplay for this film with that of the original John Wayne version of True Grit.
In fact, as I was watching the film I found myself more often intrigued with the at times quite meaty dialogue versus the at times very pulpy murder mystery.
Roddy McDowall’s Nick Evers, in particular, is a well developed character. As I mentioned above, he’s a nihilist, someone whose philosophy seems to be to burn it all down. And Roddy McDowall, who himself had a very long career as an actor, seems on the surface an odd choice for this role yet he nails it, becoming a truly hissable villain in the process.
The limitations of the story and its pulpy nature do limit just how good this film is. There is a romance -two actually- linked to Dean Martin’s Van Morgan that don’t really add all that much to the story proper and seem like deviations meant to fill up time. Not, by the way, that the romantic love interests, played by Marguerite Roberts and the lovely (and tragic, in real life) Inger Stevens are anything less than very professional and charismatic in their roles.
I suppose the problem lies in the fact that it became only too obvious too soon who the murderer was and, as a viewer, I was left with a plot that seemed only too obvious play out despite some great characterizations and dialogue.
Still, 5 Card Stud is not a terrible film but instead a movie that is limited by its plot and tries hard to break through and become something more.
There’s nothing wrong with the attempt, even if the ultimate result is something only a little more than above average.
If I were giving stars, I’d give 5 Card Stud 2 and 1/2 stars out of 4.
Take of that what you will!