October 25th, 2014: 5 Card Stud (1968)

5 Card Stud

Cast and Crew:  Henry Hathaway (Director); Hal B. Wallis (Producer); Maurice Jarre (Score); Dean Martin, John Anderson, Yaphet Kotto, Whit Bissell, Roy Jenson

What It’s About: After a man is lynched for cheating at cards, the men who lynched him are killed off one by one.  Is it someone who was in the game?  Or is it the Reverend Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum), a mysterious stranger who arrived in town shortly after the crime was committed?

Why Watch it Today?: Halloween, the seasonal classic that inspired countless imitations and helped create a new horror sub-genre, was released on this date in 1978.  So why feature a film made ten years earlier?  5 Card Stud is an interesting example of the murder mysteries made before Halloween that many of its imitators drew upon.  The film never fully commits to the mystery genre, but where it does it is almost a precursor to early slasher films-the event in the past that sets the current killings in motion, the varied early kills (smothering in a barrel of flour, strangulation with barbed wire, hanging from a church bell, drowning) which are presented in a very spooky manner (particularly the hanging from the church bell, which is incredibly atmospheric). Roddy McDowall’s sleazy operator even has mommy issues, not uncommon in the slasher sub-genre.  Of course, the film is a hybrid, so it eventually pulls away from its spooky revenge killings to get more firmly on the “Western showdown” side of things, but it’s an interesting missed opportunity, and it’s fun to imagine this as the first in a series of “Dean Martin Western Mysteries.”

Other Choices:  You could watch Halloween, or any of the many films inspired by its success.

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