The Mississippi Gambler is directed by Rudolph Maté and written by Seton I. Miller. It stars Tyrone Power, Piper Laurie, Julie Adams, John Mcintire, Paul Cavanagh, John Baer and Ron Randell. A Technicolor production out of Universal Pictures, the cinematography is by Irving Glassberg and music scored by Frank Skinner.
Mark Fallon (Power) is an ace and honest card player who earns his crust gambling on the river boats. Along with Kansas John Polly (McIntire), he aims to bring honest gambling to the card playing masses. When during one high stakes game he beats and embarrasses Laurent Dureau (Baer), it takes him to New Orleans where into his life comes danger, wealth, beautiful women, friendships and tragedy.
Sometimes horses and beautiful women are upset by whistles.
A forgotten film in the output of matinée idol Tyrone Power, The Mississippi Gambler is a different kind of adventure to the type he was ultimately known for. Perhaps this is why it's still relatively obscure? That it isn't a swashbuckling tale of derring-do and testosterone fuelled bravado? As fun as his swordsman pictures are, and they are, it's a shame that the films such as this and Nightmare Alley, that contain some of his best performances, neither get the praise or exposure they deserve.
Mississippi Gambler finds Power getting his teeth into a role that can in many ways be seen as the ultimate male. Mark Fallon lives and breathes honesty and integrity, he is not only an ace card player, he's an expert swordsman, a gentleman, an excellent dancer, and of course, handsome into the bargain. What makes the film so intriguing and ever watchable, is that Fallon does everything correct as he lives his life, but pain, misery and tragedy surrounds him. The majority of people who come into contact with him invariably suffer in one form or another, marking Fallon out as a homme fatale type through no fault of his own, with the film being structured in such a way you just have to wait for the finale to see if your hopes will be fulfilled?
Entering into this one expecting a high velocity adventure will only lead to disappointment. There is action, quite a bit in fact, as we are treated to some fencing, old fashioned fist fights and a duel, while fans of card playing get a couple of high stakes battle of wills to gorge upon. But all these moments are just insertions into a character driven whole, a whole based on romance, passion and yearnings for the unobtainable. The lead characters are nicely drawn by Maté (D.O.A.) and Miller (The Adventures of Robin Hood/Here Comes Mr. Jordan), where the psychological make up and traits of the important individuals is there to absorb, ensuring the story is never dull, that it has a belief in what it will deliver come the end. The only real misstep is with Adams' character, Ann Conant, it's a thankless role and really needed some more flesh on her bones. But boy does Adams look stunning!
As a production the film also scores incredibly high. Bill Thomas' period costumes are feasts for the eyes, beautifully realised by Glassberg's (Bend of the River) Technicolor photography, and the back drop set decoration (Russell Gausman/Julia Heron) is fit to have graced a bigger budgeted epic in the same decade. Prolific music man Frank Skinner (Arabian Nights) scores it thematically reflective, while Gwen Verdon deserves a mention for her choreography, notably for the excitingly macabre Haitian Devil Song. On the acting front it's ineviatbly Power's show, but he is well supported by McIntire (crafty sidekick), Laurie (pulse raising lady axis) and Baer (snivelling spoiled fop). However, best of the support bunch is Cavanagh (Magnificent Obsession), he gives Edmond Dureau a regal quality, a bastion of moral codes, a hark back to when men were correct in manners and parental skills. The relationship between Fallon and Edmond is one of the film's true highlights, and that's because of Power and Cavanagh's performances.
A wonderful movie that's just crying out for a wide home format release, if you get the chance to catch it then grasp it with both hands. 8/10
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