While trolling Big Lots one day a few months ago, I spotted a copy of A Big Hand For The Little Lady. With a top-billed cast of Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward and Jason Robards, how could I not pick it up for $3? Thankfully I can say that it was worth at least that.
Directed and produced by Fielder Cook, this is the kind of movie they couldn’t make today because there just aren’t enough great character actors out there. It’s a Western comedy, filled with some of the greatest character actors to appear in Westerns, like Charles Bickford and John Qualen. Burgess Meredith, Paul Ford, Kevin McCarthy and Robert Middleton fill out the rest of the cast.
The film kicks off with this wonderful, crackling intro, as undertaker Tropp (Bickford) gathers up the other rick men in the Laredo territory for their annual high-stakes poker game. After everything gets started though, a young family of settlers – Meredith (Fonda), Mary (Woodward) and their son, Jackie (Gerald Michenaud) – arrive at the hotel where the game is being played. Meredith appears to be a recovering gambling addict and when he hears there is a game going on, he tries to get in. Lawyer Otto Habershaw (McCarthy) is more open to letting him join than Henry P.G. Drummond (Robards) is, but Otto gets his way and Meredith is in.
Most of A Big Hand plays out like The Cincinnati Kid‘s last hour, but in a Western setting. However, this is a comedy, filled with brash overacting from Robards, who is clearly having a total blast in this. In fact, it looks like everyone had fun while making this completely unpretentious film.
Cook isn’t a big-name director and is better known for his work as a TV director (although he did make his feature debut with the film version of Rod Serling’s Pattersn). So, he didn’t have any particular style to adhere to. After all, he directed the TV version of A Big Hand, so he knew the material.
While A Big Hand isn’t an essential classic or anything, it’s a real fun movie that I hope more people check out. It has a neat twist and unfortunately goes on a little too long at the end, but its top-notch cast helps you forget about its flaws.
Warner Bros Home Video released A Big Hand on DVD in 2007 and it sadly includes no bonus material, not even a trailer.