Saturday, March 30, 2013

Genre Mash-Up :: A 13 Vid-Cap Look at Henry Hathaway's Sagebrush Slasher, 5 Card Stud (1968)

___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___
"You've preached a lot of funerals around here 
lately. You got something new for this one?"
___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___ 

5 Card Stud opens quick and dirty with a tin-horn cowpoke getting caught cheating at cards, which is then compounded when the other players overreact, especially the no-account son of the local land baron (McDowall), leading to some swift frontier justice at the end of a rope over the vehement protests of our hero (Martin). Realizing they went too far too late, all involved, seven otherwise outstanding citizens in total, clam up and make a pact to carry the secret of their dirty deed to the grave. This, of course, sets up our bloody tale as several months later someone starts picking off these conspirators, one by one; and whoever is doing it is making a deliberate point as each victim dies most gruesomely by some form of strangulation -- just like the tin-horn. They can't go to the law without implicating themselves, and therefore can only watch helplessly as shoot-first-and-ask-later vigilante mobs run rampant looking for the elusive killer, waiting and wondering who will be next. But who is doing the killing? One of them? Trying to scare the others into silence? Or maybe to make sure the others stay silent forever. Or is someone else out to knock them off? And if so, for what purpose? Revenge, most likely; an eye for an eye, as the good Reverend Rudd (Mitchum) would proselytize -- and to reap what you sow...

When a person digs back into the fossil records looking for films that helped inspire or establish the ground rules for the Stalk-n-Slash boom of the early 1980's the last thing you'd expect to find is a western. And if I told you that same western was also a starring vehicle for Rat Pack booze crooner Dean Martin, you'd probably think I just took a long walk off a very short credulity pier. But let's look at the evidence: 

Now, a person seeking revenge on those who killed his family is nothing new for this genre. Hell, a lonesome quest to put these kinds of killers in the ground is usually championed and one of the rocks on which the western is built. But here, with the focus on the lynch mob, the line between that old trope and a bloody body-count movie is muddied up pretty good. Look, I am in no way saying or implying that Dean Martin is some kind of ersatz Final Girl, but from the set-up, to the kills, to the killer's modus operandi, 5 Card Stud holds almost all the other earmarks of a later day slasher: a sinister secret that links the victims and triggers the whole thing, a familial need for vengeance on the killer's part, signature slayings, layers of conspiracy, mounting paranoia, and a long suspect list that is whittled down with each body found until the real killer is finally revealed. (It's also kind of like Hang 'Em High in reverse.)

Granted, this sagebrush whodunit works best during the mayhem, so, fair warning, it does tend to clunk along when the film shifts focus to the love triangle between our lothario gambler Martin and parlor madame Stevens and good girl Justice. But, we do get to see Mitchum behind the pulpit again, bringing the fire and the brimstone and the lead to the unrepentant. 

Directed with a steady hand by Henry Hathaway with an adapted screenplay assist by Marguerite Roberts (based on a novel by Ray Gaulden), the film gets extra bonus points from me for a nasty, unflinching mean-streak that is sustained throughout the film. (The very next year Hathaway and Roberts would team again with John Wayne for the original True Grit.) Add it all up and this offbeat genre mash-up definitely rates a look even for those who seldom venture out west, cinematically speaking.

Other Points of Interest:

Five Card Stud (1968) Paramount Pictures  / EP: Hal B. Wallis / P: Joseph H. Hazen, Paul Nathan / D: Henry Hathaway / W: Marguerite Roberts / C: Daniel L. Fapp / M: Maurice Jarre  / S: Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Roddy McDowall, Yaphet Kotto, Katherine Justice, Inger Stevens

1 comment:

Professor Mortis said...

Why haven't I heard of this before? I'm going to have to see this, preferably with my brother he's gonna love that this exists.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...