Retro movie review: ‘5 Card Stud’

Hard as it might be to believe, I’m still lacking a finished book to review tonight. I’m finding my current read a little slow, I guess – though it’s gaining interest as I proceed. It’ll probably be ready tomorrow.

What else to talk about? Today lacked the pulse-pounding social interactions of yesterday. I watched the last half of a movie I’m fond of last night, though. I can gas about that.

5 Card Stud (1968) is not a great movie, but I find it endlessly entertaining, and generally watch it whenever it shows up. Its attractions are many.

Dean Martin in the lead. Dino was the archetypal Italian-American and seems an odd choice as a western star. But he loved westerns, and excelled in roles where he could play breezy, wisecracking types. By all accounts he was a nice guy too, and faithful to his wife, at least for a long time. Similarly, he joked about drinking a lot, but didn’t actually… until the time came when he did. Here he plays Van Morgan, a gambler who tries to stop fellow card players from lynching a cheater, but fails. Later the participants in the game start being murdered, one by one.

Robert Mitchum plays Rev. Jonathan Rudd, a mysterious preacher who comes to town and starts tweaking the surviving players’ consciences. Mitchum, I was interested to learn a while back, was half Norwegian. His mother was Norwegian.

It’s odd when I think back, but I can recall as a young boy thinking that Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum were the same guy. I guess tall, dark guys like that weren’t very common in my world and they all looked alike to me.

But the big draw in 5 Card Stud is Inger Stevens, who plays a prostitute named Lily Langford. It has been my contention for many years that Inger was the most beautiful woman to show up on the public scene in my lifetime. (My friend Mark Goldblatt calls her the “ultimate shiksa.”) She was a Swedish immigrant, but had assimilated to the extent that she had to re-learn her accent when she got the title role in the TV series, The Farmer’s Daughter. An unhappy woman, they say, a little like Marilyn Monroe in forever searching for fulfillment in a man’s love and never finding it. She would die just two years later, in 1970, probably a suicide.

But what beauty! At once regal and impish.

Sadly, most of the films she did that show up on TV from time to time are ones I don’t want to watch. Not even Hang ‘em High, with Clint Eastwood, which is pretty good for the most part, but includes a multiple hanging scene that I, wimp that I am, just can’t handle.

Anyway, 5 Card Stud is a mystery without much actual mystery, and the acting is sometimes over the top. The dialogue can be weak too, though the script was written by Marguerite Roberts, who would write the great True Grit a few years down the line. (However, it should be noted that True Grit follows Charles Portis’s novel very closely, so not a lot of creativity was required. Anyway, Roberts was a Commie.)

But it’s a treat to watch Martin, Mitchum, and Stevens go through their paces. And Dean sings the title song.

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