Produced and directed by Fielder Cook from a screenplay by Sidney Carroll, adapted from their TV play Big Deal in Laredo (which had originally aired on the DuPont Show of the Week in 1962), A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) stars Henry Fonda as Meredith, a gambler trying to resist the urge to take up the game again.
As the film opens Meredith is traveling to San Antonio, Texas with his wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and young son, Jackie (Gerald Michenaud) to buy a farm and start a new life there. Unfortunately for him, he comes upon an annual high-stakes poker game between Henry Drummond (Jason Robards), Benson Tropp (Charles Bickford), Dennis Wilcox (Robert Middleton), Otto Habbershaw (Kevin McCarthy), and Jesse Buford (John Qualen) in Loredo. Though his family pleads otherwise, Meredith can’t resist joining the game. He willingly pays the $1,000 entry fee, which had been earmarked to help pay for the farm, and represents a quarter of the family’s life savings. Meredith keeps on gambling until his debts become higher and higher. In time, he has all $4,000 of his family’s savings in the pot and lacks the $500 necessary to call the most recent bet. Under strain, Meredith collapses.
At that point, Mary comes charging into the poker game. (The “little lady” had to take charge sometime, right?) Mary, admitting she knows nothing about playing poker, begs to take her husband’s place at the table because of her family’s dire financial situation. After much consternation, Wilcox is finally persuaded to let her leave the room with most of the other men, in order to see the local banker, C.P. Ballinger (Paul Ford) about giving her a loan. Convinced he’s the victim of a scam put forth by Mary and the others—the only collateral she offers is the hand of cards she holding—Ballinger has them thrown out. Sometime later, the Ballinger arrives at the game and finds out that Mary and the men weren’t kidding, there is in fact a real contest going on. After giving a lecture about what a conservative investor he is, the banker announces that he will back Mary on the basis of her hand, calls the $500 and raises everyone else $5000, causing each of them to fold. Even in defeat, the men feel satisfied to have played poker with a woman who laid everything on the line for the man she loved.
The cast is unquestionably talented and there’s a nice surprise twist at the end. If A Big Hand for the Little Lady has a negative, it’s the amount of filler in the piece. Running about thirty minutes too long, there’s a lot of unnecessary dialogue. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the piece started out as a 60-minute television program (including commercials) and was expanded to 95 minutes when it was turned into a motion picture. Despite this flaw, A Big Hand for the Little Lady is a rather charming film, featuring solid performances from all the actors involved. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s well worth seeking out.
Presented in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, A Big Hand for the Little Lady offers good Technicolor, helped in large part by its natural tones and deep richness. While the opening outdoor shot is rather grainy, things clear up nicely from there. The transfer doesn’t show any real obvious signs of age.
The audio track is a standard 1.0 monaural, processed in Dolby Digital. Dialogue is clean and clear, and that’s really all that matters here.
English and French subtitles are available.
There are no special features.
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