After a card shark is caught cheating, he is taken out and lynched by the drunkards he was playing against. Soon afterwards, the men who were in the lynch mob start being murdered, one after another; all by hanging, strangling, or smothering. Who will be killed next and who is responsible? Is it one of the original party seeking to cover their accursed deed, or perhaps the mysterious Rev. Jonathan Rudd, who has recently arrived in town? Written by
5 Card Stud is directed by Henry Hathaway and adapted to screenplay by Marguerite Roberts from a novel written by Ray Gaulden. It stars Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Inger Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Justice, John Anderson, Ruth Springford and Yaphet Kotto. Music is by Maurice Jarre and cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp.
Rincon, Colorado and when a gambler is caught cheating at poker, the rest of the players administer frontier justice and hang the man. All except one man that is, Van Morgan (Martin), who tried desperately to stop the lynching. When members of the card school from that night start being killed off, it's clear that somebody is also administering their own brand of retribution justice. Morgan teams up with the new unorthodox preacher in town, Reverend Jonathan Rudd (Mitchum), to try and crack the case.
I don't think anyone would seriously try to argue that 5 Card Stud is a great movie, but it is a fun picture made by people who knew their way around the dusty plains of the Western genre. Basically a Western take on Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, it's a whodunit at the core, but surrounded by Western staples as fights, gun-play, murders, barroom shenanigans and thinly veiled prostitution exist during the run time, while the Durango location photography is most pleasant (TCM HD print is gorgeous).
It's not short of flaws, mind. Jarre's musical score is simply odd, I'm not even sure what film genre he thought he was scoring, but it's about as far removed as being in tune with a film as can be. McDowall as a whiny weasel villain doesn't work, the costuming is a bit sub-par and the reveal of the perpetrator is revealed too early. Yet film overcomes these problems because being in the company of Mitchum and Martin brings rewards.