big hand

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (released in the UK as Big Deal at Dodge City) is a 1966 western film, made by Eden Productions Inc. and released by Warner Bros.. It was produced and directed by Fielder Cook from a screenplay by Sidney Carroll, adapted from their TV play Big Deal in Laredo which aired on the DuPont Show of the Week in 1962.

The film stars Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward, Paul Ford and Jason Robards, with Charles Bickford, Burgess Meredith, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Middleton, and John Qualen. The original TV play starred Walter Matthau as Meredith.


The five richest men in the territory gather in Laredo for their annual high-stakes poker game. The high rollers let nothing get in the way of their yearly showdown. When dour undertaker Tropp (Charles Bickford) calls for them in his horse-drawn hearse, cattleman Henry Drummond (Jason Robards) forces a postponement of his daughter's wedding, while lawyer Otto Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy) abandons his closing arguments in a capital trial. They are joined by Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Buford (John Qualen) in the back room of Sam's saloon, while the curious gather to get occasional reports.

Settlers Meredith (Henry Fonda), his demure wife Mary (Joanne Woodward), and their young son Jackie are passing through, on their way to purchase a farm near San Antonio, when a wheel on their wagon breaks. They wait at Sam's while the local blacksmith repairs it. Meredith, a recovering gambler, learns of the big poker game and begs to sit in, "just to watch," but Mary won't hear of it. However, while she's taking the wagon to the blacksmith, Habershaw invites Meredith into the back room. The newcomer buys into the game, eventually staking all of the family savings, meant to pay for a home.

The game builds to a climactic hand; the gamblers raise and re-raise until more than $20,000 is in the pot. Meredith, out of cash, is unable to call the latest raise; under the strain, he collapses. The town physician, Joseph "Doc" Scully (Burgess Meredith), is called to care for the stricken man. Barely conscious, Meredith signals his desire that his wife play out the hand.

Taking his seat, Mary naively asks, "How do you play this game?" The other players object loudly to playing with a woman, particularly one who doesn't know the game, but eventually give in. The situation is explained to her: if she cannot match the last raise (and any others that may follow), she will be out of the hand.

Despite the men's protests, she leaves the room to borrow additional funds. With Jackie and four of the players trailing behind, Mary crosses the street and talks to the owner of the Cattle and Merchants' Bank, C. P. Ballinger (Paul Ford). After she shows him her hand, Ballinger assumes she is trying to play a practical joke on him, but when he learns otherwise, he loans her $5,500 (at 6% interest) and makes a $5000 raise for her. The other players, aware of Ballinger's tightfisted, cautious nature, all reluctantly fold. When Mary collects her sizable winnings and leaves, the game breaks up.

Her determination earns her the admiration of the men. Even Drummond, the most hard-hearted one of the bunch, is so touched that, when he returns home to the waiting wedding ceremony, he talks privately to his weak-willed, prospective son-in-law, gives him some money, and orders him to run away and find himself a better wife than his daughter.

The denouement takes place in the gambling town of Black Creek, where it is revealed that Meredith, Mary, and even their "son" are confidence tricksters and expert card sharps. Led by Ballinger and with the collusion of Scully, they perpetrated a scam on the five poker players, who had swindled the banker in a real estate deal sixteen years ago. "Mary" is actually Ballinger's girlfriend Ruby. She had promised him she would give up gambling after the caper, but it is clear that she had no such intention, when she sits down to a no-limit poker game.



Joanne Woodward was nominated for the Golden Laurel Award for Female Comedy Performance.


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