Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. Soon, I will be launch a podcast about Westerns and I am also working on a book about Western film directors. Click Here to learn more about my 12 Westerns project.


Week 139: 5 Card Stud


Wow. Why have I not heard more mention of this film? When queuing it up on the Criterion Channel for an upcoming study of Mitchum’s Westerns, I thought to myself, “This is probably some cheesy Western from the late 60s.” My prediction could not have been more wrong. This is one of the best of the genre, a film that even gives classics like Rio Bravo a run for their money.

From its dark opening onward, 5 Card Stud has a unique Western narrative, a mystery plot with flavors of Agatha Christie mixed into the world of lawmen and outlaws. Though the identity of the killer is really no mystery at all, the film holds incredible suspense as it all unravels. It’s more about watching the inevitable happen rather than wondering what is going to happen, a confirmation of Stanley Kubrick’s thoughts on suspense.

Dean Martin is as good here as anywhere else. Yes, he probably delivers his must varied and nuanced performance in Rio Bravo but in this film, he shines as the lead. Even matched against Mitchum, 5 Card Stud remains his movie. Speaking of Mitchum, this is by far the better of his two “preacher” movies. I found him more real and sinister as the avenging holy man this go round than I do in Night of the Hunter, an overrated “classic”. Roddy McDowall steals every scene he’s in. McDowall is the film’s true villain, an antagonist whose power lies not in his size but his psychosis. The actor is truly scary in the part and I wish he’d played many more like it.

This makes me excited to watch more of Hathaway’s work. More recognized for True Grit and The Sons of Katie Elder, 5 Card Stud is his best film I’ve seen thus far.

Watched on the Criterion Channel.