The film is set in the West just before the 20th century. Then, a retreat from the blazing heat of the streets into the confines of the theater was a welcome experience. As you might have picked from the film’s title, poker is the central theme. In those days, poker was played in the backroom of cattlemen’s salons. A single hand would take a whole hour, and this is how we get most of the details of the film.
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) is a west type comedy full of fun and great adventure. Five men of means gather in Laredo for a yearly high stakes poker in the back room of a local cattleman’s salon. Hardly a few minutes into the game, Meredith’s family (Henry Fonda), wife, and child Jackie come into town.
Meredith, a perpetual loser and recovering poker addict, had sworn to the wife he would never be caught dead playing poker. However, the appeal of the games draws him back to the jaws of poker. Yes, he joined in and carried with losing. He goes ahead to stake the family $4000 worth of savings. As is the case in comedy things escalate quickly. Meredith collapse with a strong hand, and shockingly, his wife takes over.
Fielder Cook is the produced and directed of the film, and is better known for a few other successful Television productions. The film is 95 minutes’ worth of good entertainment. You are certainly going to be amazed by the cast, who enjoy every bit of the theater-like scenes. The premise is well built and does a good job of roping in the cast.
Most of the movie transpired at the poker table, and the director exploits the confined space that has also been invaded by Meredith’s family. He has the mark of a perpetual loser, and his wife gets into action to save their savings. Things become somewhat tense as she plays the game while her husband’s health remains uncertain. The men at the table do not shave off their rude demeanor to accommodate a lady. They became much more unlikable, talked her down, and showed every manner of disrespect. This does not faze her desire to save their savings.
Focus then shifts to other characters. There’s Drummond, who is depicted as a character who interrupts the daughter’s wedding to go to a poker game that quickly transitioned into a farce. Elsewhere, Habershaw, played by Kevin McCarthy, also a rich man, seems to be attracted to Mary and does his best to show her kindness.
Fonda does well albeit in a tiny role. His worried demeanor appears exaggerated even as he is drenched in sweat as his losses grow. Woodward is shown as a perfect wife, who has a lot to say about the husband’s dalliance with poker, yet she is seated there holding cards to her chest. It’s a funny twist of irony. The film ends as the rich men come to their senses, even as the real identity of the real sucker at the game remains a mystery.