Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bickford, and Joanne Woodward in A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)


(director: Fielder Cook; screenwriter: Sidney Carroll; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: George Rohrs; music: David Raksin; cast: Henry Fonda (Meredith), Joanne Woodward (Mary), Jason Robards, Jr. (Henry Drummond), Charles Bickford (Benson Tropp), Burgess Meredith (Doc Scully), Paul Ford (C.P. Ballinger), Kevin McCarthy (Otto Habershaw), Robert Middleton (Dennis Wilcox), John Qualen (Jesse Buford), Gerald Michenaud (Jackie); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fielder Cook; Warner Bros.; 1966)

“Pleasant but relatively thin western comedy.”


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director and producer Fielder Cook is mostly noted for directing on television. Cook directed the 48-minute teleplay, Big Deal in Laredo (1963), a Dupont Show of the Week TV presentation, which this film was based on. This pleasant but relatively thin western comedy (it was padded) about card hustlers is written by Sidney Carroll (“The Hustler”). Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward head an all-star cast (including Jason Robards, Jr., Burgess Meredith and Charles Bickford).

Set in 1896 in the Laredo territory. The five richest men in the territory gather in the back room of a saloon for their annual high-stakes poker game. The five players are: Henry Drummond (Jason Robards, Jr.), a card shark who left his daughter’s wedding rather than be late for the card game; Benson Tropp (Charles Bickford), a women hating undertaker; Otto Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy), a dapper lawyer who, in order not to miss the game, left in a lurch a client facing hanging before giving his closing argument; Dennis Wilcox (Robert Middleton), a cattle baron; and Jesse Buford (John Qualen), a miserly merchant.

On the following day, timid farmer Meredith (Henry Fonda), someone sworn to giving up gambling, arrives in town with his wife, Mary (Joanne Woodward), and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michenaud). While Mary secures someone to fix their damaged wagon, Meredith can’t resist the temptation to get into the game and uses his homestead money to gamble. By the time Mary returns, he needs an additional $500 to stay in the game. Faced with Mary’s indignation, Meredith collapses and Doc Scully (Burgess Meredith) is summoned to treat him. Forced to leave the game, Mary takes his place even though she knows nothing about poker. Using her poker hand as collateral, she gets a loan from banker C. P. Ballinger (Paul Ford) and plays out a hand loaded with aces.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

It turns out that both Meredith and Mary are professional gamblers and that Ballinger and Doc Scully hatched the scam to cheat the big-time gamblers.


REVIEWED ON 10/13/2008 GRADE: C+