5 Card Stud: A Classic Western

5 Card Stud is a little-known 1968 Western film, starring Robert Mitchum and Dean Martin in the autumn of their long careers. It features a mild mystery along with some good action, and these two veterans ensure that it is not a B-movie offering.

A Hero on the Run

Dean Martin heads up the film at 50-years old, but none of the charm that launched his career is missing, and can perhaps even be said to have been made more powerful by the world weariness which his encroaching old age has added to it. It suits him perfectly for the part of Van Morgan, a gambler hailing from Rincon Colorado. The movie begins with his enjoying a late-night card game in a saloon –a game which very quickly turns into an all-out lynching party when one of the participants is caught cheating. Despite our hero’s best attempts to stop the slaughter it reaches its grisly conclusion and Van decides to make himself scarce as a result, heading for Denver to lay low.

While Van is out of town there is a discovery of gold near the town of Rincon, and the place is suddenly filled with strangers seeking their fortune, including a preacher with no problem with pistols played by Mr Mitchum. In the hubbub that the rumour of gold creates two murders occur –and both the victims are characters we recognise from the card game that began the film. When Van learns of the death of his friend George, the bartender at the saloon at which the game took place, he decides to investigate further and returns to Rincon post haste.

Mild Mystery Delivers Strong Performances

Although 5 Card Stud does revolve around the identity of the killer and this mystery is one that is very easy for the viewer to solve, it does not detract from the enjoyment of the film. Stellar performances by both Mitchum and Martin make sure that even when you have spotted the killer you will enjoy watching them try to figure it out.

The supporting cast for 5 Card Stud is as strong as its leads are, and fans of this period of Hollywood will quickly recognise several very able character actors. Roddy McDowall is interestingly cast as the son of one of the local ranchers, for instance, and while viewers may feel that his effeminate English characterisation is out of place at first, the slimy, slick surface appeal it delivers will very quickly overcome this impression.

5 Card Stud is directed by Henry Hathaway, an individual with an impressive list of directing credits to his name that many fans of the Western genre will recognise at once. He has more than 60 movies that bear his name, from the 1930s to the 1970s, including Rue Madeleine, which starred James Cagney; John Wayne’s True Grit and Marilyn Monroe’s famous Niagara. He keeps the pace of 5 Card Stud up, and lets his actors do what they do best, all the while maintaining a tight hold on the action scenes, ensuring they deliver all the punch they were designed to.