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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: March 26th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1968

5 Card Stud

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Matthew Hartman
A mysterious killer comes to town bent on revenge in Henry Hathaway’s stylish Whodunit Western 5 Card Stud. Starring Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, and Roddy McDowall, the setting and circumstances offer a fresh feel for an old story but the final reveal is obvious to anyone paying attention. Vinegar Syndrome adds this classic to their VSL Blu-ray sublabel with a beautiful transfer and insightful extras. Highly Recommended 
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OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region A Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/MPEG-4 AVC
Length:
103
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
March 26th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

There’s no better time than at the outset to admit I’m a cinematic sucker for certain films. I love Westerns. I love Whodunit murder mysteries. Put both of those genres together? Well, under those circumstances, I’m a hog fit for a mud puddle. Being that the Mystery/Western is something of a rarity, Henry Hathaway’s 5 Card Stud first popped on my radar as a curiosity when I was a counter-jockey at Hollywood Video. I was checking in late returns before closing and it caught my eye. Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, and Roddy McDowall in a western from the director of True Grit? I gave it a shot and wasn’t disappointed. 

Our film kicks off with Dean Martin as professional card shark Van Martin in the middle of a game of 5 card stud with some locals including ranching heir Nick Evers (Roddy McDowall). When a tinhorn is exposed mid-shuffle, Nick Evers and his fellow players aim to lynch the man instead of getting the sheriff and having him run out of town. In a brave effort to stop the illegal killing, Van Martin is pistol-whipped unconscious before the man is hanged. But when the players in the game start turning up dead, Van must partner with the town’s new bible-thumper Rev. Rudd (Robert Mitchum) to figure out who is doing the killings and stop them before the cemetery gets too crowded.

As a massive fan of the genre on page and screen, Westerns are something of an addiction. Second only to Horror (mostly because those franchises have numerous entries), I have more Westerns than any other genre in my collection. If they’re good, they’re amazing. If they’re mediocre, well, they’re still pretty entertaining. It has to be pretty damned awful for me to turn a western out onto the cold prairie. On the scale of Westerns and Whodunit mysteries, Henry Hathaway’s 5 Card Stud is pretty damn good entertainment. Not an excellent film, it’s got some bumps, but it’s a very entertaining flick with some great performances backing the play of a sharp premise. 

I don’t know who it was that told me when I was a kid that Dean Martin was a bad actor, but I love that every time I discover one of his films that notion is always proven wrong. It was decades ago when I found 5 Card Stud and I was already a fan of his after his excellent turn as Dude in Rio Bravo. In this film, Martin plays it straight and honest - at least as best as a gambler and womanizer can be played. He’s forthright and just, even if that means saving a murdering scoundrel like McDowall’s Nick Evers from a mysterious killer.

And speaking of actors known for hamming it up, McDowall plays his part as straight-up mean - and I love it. He was always a natural at playing slimy characters, but he could be a little overly theatrical to the point of annoyance. Here the menace he delivers gives him an extra edge. Then we come to Robert Mitchum’s Rudd. A mystery unto himself, his cool-as-ice preacher is an interesting companion to his turn as the scripture-quoting killer Harry Powell. The three have actors magnificent interplay and work well for the combination of Western/Mystery plot devices. It’s also fun to see John Wayne’s two best cinematic drunk buddies working together. Also worth the mention is Yaphet Kotto in one of his early roles as the barman George.

But as I said, 5 Card Stud isn’t an excellent Western or Whodunit. Henry Hathaway has always somewhat confounded me as a filmmaker. For every really great film he directed, there’s another that feels shortchanged, almost like he got bored with it and just wants to wrap it up. That happens in this film’s third act. The care for the mysterious killer's identity and the cleverness of the plot twists gradually erode and become far too obvious before being revealed. Plot twists that aren’t interesting spiral out from there, leading to an undercooked climax. It starts to feel like Hathaway is done with it while his cast still wants to keep playing in the sandbox. I don't know if that was an aspect of Marguerite Roberts' screenplay or if that's how it worked out in Ray Gauldin's original novel (I haven't read it). Regardless, within this film itself, I wish the last act was a bit tighter. 

Then there is the dead-in-the-water love triangle between Dean Martin’s Van and Inger Stevens’ Lily Langford and Katherine Justice’s Nora Evers. The roles are so underdeveloped for these two actresses to the point of just being time-wasting fillers. Justice’s presence made sense since she’s playing McDowall’s sister, but the Lily character pops up mid-film out of nowhere and doesn't do much beyond neck with Dino. That whole plot thread is just mud. Slimming this out would’ve saved ten minutes, easy, and made for a leaner, more thrilling film. 

But at the end of the day, I’m still a fan of 5 Card Stud. Not the film I would dig out of my DVD archives all that often but when I do I’m glad to sit with it. It’s a solid popcorn-munching entertainer. Martin gets to deliver his signature vibrato for the opening and closing tune while Maurice Jarre delivered an excellent score that is weirdly playful but also downright creepy. Great performances from the leads with a solid plot hook help the film rise above a couple of bumps. 



Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray 
5 Card Stud
deals another hand on home video with its first Blu-ray release courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. The 8th release of the Vinegar Syndrome Labs sub-label, the film bets big on a single-disc Blu-ray pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, housed in a clear case with reversible insert art, and Vinegar Syndrome exclusive slipcover. The disc loads to an animated main menu with standard navigation options. Also included is a booklet featuring an essay from Jim Healy.

Video Review

Ranking:

Reportedly newly scanned and restored in 4K, this 1.85:1 transfer is simply stunning. To say I wouldn’t have also minded seeing a 4K HDR option as well is something of an understatement, but I get the economics might not be there for this title. Regardless, in 1080p this looks terrific. Details are impeccably clear with sharp lines. Stubbly faces, woolen clothing, dusty saloon floors every little facet and feature is on display. There is one odd shot during the opening poker game that’s a little wonky, it's weirdly out of focus, but it's brief and the issue never happens again. It’s a lone shot and quickly forgotten. Film grain is retained for a nice cinematic veneer to the presentation. Colors are bright and bold letting key primaries get their due attention with healthy human skin tones - which is important for Ol’ Dino’s signature tan. Elements are in excellent shape without any serious age wear and tear to report.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The disc also comes with a well-appointed DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that fits right at home for this Western Whodunit. Right from the jump, we have Martin’s vocals setting the stage for the soundscape backed by Jarre’s jangly score. The action happens fast as we get right to the hanging and gunfire isn’t far behind. A big second-act gunfight is the highlight of the soundscape with plenty of quiet creepy bits throughout with our mysterious killer stalking his next kill. All around a clean clear mix without any age-related issues to report.

Special Features

Ranking:

Completing the package is a nice selection of bonus features for this release of 5 Card Stud. It’s not the biggest selection ever assembled, but it’s quality material. Film Historian Jim Healy turns in his great essay 5 Card Stud: A Menacing Western-mystery ‘Hell-Bent for Hell.’ It’s a great read if you really want to dig into the film. Brian Hannan delivers an insightful commentary track while screenwriter Marguerite Roberts and director Henry Hathaway each enjoy insightful featurettes.

  • Booklet - 5 Card Stud: A Menacing Western-mystery ‘Hell-Bent for Hell Essay
  • Audio Commentary featuring Brian Hannan
  • A Woman of True Grit (HD 13:41)
  • Jack of All Trades (HD 21:35)

I don’t think too many folks out there are going to accuse 5 Card Stud of being a great film. Even as a huge fan of Westerns and Whodunit murder mysteries, I have my quibbles with it. Hell, the film’s original theatrical poster all but gives away the mystery! But I do enjoy it. I may even cut it more slack than most out there because I genuinely got a kick out of it the first time I saw it. Those couple years working at Hollywood Video were among the best simply because I discovered so many amazing classics just because I had to put them back on the shelf every night before going home. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, this novelty in the Western genre can gain some reappraisal with a stellar Blu-ray release. The A/V presentation is picture-perfect with a great audio mix to match. Bonus features are interesting and well worth checking out for an overall Highly Recommended disc. 

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