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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 and all by hanging. 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?
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Paramount released a first-rate Western, El Dorado, in 1967, and another, True Grit, in 1969. So why was the studio's 1968 oater such a hunk of buzzard bait? You know Five Card Stud's in trouble from the opening credits--they're too short to accommodate the Dean Martin title song, so that it spills awkwardly into the first scene. The timing never does come out right--not in the lethargic pacing, not in the lax editing (which often leaves cast members stranded onscreen at scene's end), and not in the herky-jerky screenplay, which either lurches over intervals of weeks (months?) or piles up enough calamities in one day to stock a sequel. Even the end comes five minutes and two anticlimactic scenes late.
An after-hours poker game is underway as the film begins. A stranger is caught cheating and, over the objection of professional gambler Dean Martin, lynched. Soon there's another stranger in town, black-clad preacher Robert Mitchum, and participants in the fatal card game start dying grotesque, solitary deaths. Five Card Stud wants to be a psychological mystery, but there's scant psychology and no mystery at all beyond why the filmmakers thought any viewer could fail to figure it out. Martin and Mitchum sleepwalk through their roles (Martin's includes a glum, ludicrously written romance with brothel-keeper Inger Stevens), while Roddy McDowall camps up his turn as spoiled son of the local range baron. Somewhere in the middle, the young Yaphet Kotto plays it admirably cool as a philosophical bartender. --Richard T. Jameson
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