“Deal me in” – Rediscovering ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ (US 1966 – 95 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - February 05, 2014
“Deal me in” – Rediscovering ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ (US 1966 – 95 mins)

The wonderful comedy-western ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ is one of those movies that captures you very early on. With a gripping story that twists and turns, not to mention a first rate cast, you really cannot go wrong with this minor gem.

A couple and their young son are passing through a town where the biggest poker game in the west is currently taking place. The foolish father who has a previous gambling addiction, gets himself roped into the legendary game, which takes place once a year between the richest men in the area. He bets all of his families savings on a particular hand in which he thinks he cannot lose. Unfortunately, a sudden heart attack means he cannot continue playing, and he risks losing all their money. He begs his wife to play the hand for him, but unfortunately she knows nothing about poker. To reveal any more would spoil a terrific ending to a near perfect film.

Firstly, you do not need to know anything about poker to enjoy this great little movie. The entertainment is in the wordplay, expressions and tension that each of the colourful characters, vividly displays.

Also known as ‘Big Deal at Dodge City’, the film has a perfect ensemble cast of acting greats, headed up by one of cinemas finest; Henry Fonda. He is just perfect as the sweaty, desperate gambler. The expression of relief on his face at finally being dealt a good hand is a master-class of quiet acting. The lovely Joanne Woodward is also excellent as Fonda’s worried and doting wife, taking on the challenge of playing out her husband’s hand, in this ruthless game in which she knows nothing about. At the same time she manages to teach these stubborn men a little bit about loyalty and love.

Renowned television director Fielder Cook had his first movie success here. Staying mainly in television, he did go on direct two good 1968 marital comedies; ‘Prudence and the Pill’, with David Niven and Deborah Kerr, and ‘How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life’ with Dean Martin and Stella Stevens.

The cast of supporting players is very strong indeed. Double Oscar-winner Jason Robards is on top form as the loudest and angriest of the poker players, incredulous that a woman is allowed to join in the game. Kevin McCarthy is also very good as the handsome, gentleman player, offering his assistance to Woodward’s anxious novice. The marvellous character actor Charles Bickford is excellent in his final role as a grouchy undertaker. Bickford also gets the films funniest line. After telling the other players that he hates women, and being told by Kevin McCarthy “I believe you, you’ve buried enough of them”, he responds with the harsh quip; “sure I did, I put ‘em back where they belong”.

Other expert support can be found from Robert Middleton and the prolific John Qualen, as the other two poker players, and Burgess Meredith as the tired town doctor. Paul Ford as the bullish bank manger, and the unknown but admirable James Berwick as the towns harassed barman, round out this truly amazing cast.

With a terrific script by ‘The Hustler’ screenwriter Sidney Carroll, ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ is a genuine delight. Full of wonderful moments, genuine tension and a smile-inducing finale, deal yourself in on this one!

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *