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 Technicolor western film made by Eden Productions Inc. and released by Warner Bros. The film 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.

A Big Hand for the Little Lady
Directed byFielder Cook
Produced byFielder Cook
Written bySidney Carroll
Based onBig Deal in Laredo
1962 NBC teleplay
by Sidney Carroll
StarringHenry Fonda
Joanne Woodward
Paul Ford
Jason Robards
Burgess Meredith
Charles Bickford
Kevin McCarthy
Music byDavid Raksin
CinematographyLee Garmes
Edited byGeorge R. Rohrs
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • May 31, 1966 (1966-05-31)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States

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 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 trial, with his client's life hanging in the balance. They are joined by Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Buford (John Qualen) in the back room of Sam's saloon, while the curious gather outside for occasional reports.

Settler Meredith (Henry Fonda), his wife Mary (Joanne Woodward), and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michenaud) 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 begins to feel the excitement once again. During a break, Otto Habershaw catches a glimpse of Mary in her violet dress. Being so enchanted by her, he permits Meredith's request to watch the game only if Mary allows him. 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 for his wife to play out the hand.

Taking his seat, Mary asks, "How do you play this game?" The other players object loudly to playing with someone who does not 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 suggests she is playing a practical joke. When he is told otherwise, he loans her $5,500 (at 6% interest) and makes a $5,000 raise for her. The other players, aware of Ballinger's tightfisted, cautious nature, all reluctantly fold. Mary collects her sizable winnings and pays Ballinger back with interest. The game then breaks up, no one ever having seen the winning hand.

The lady's determination earns her the admiration of the men. Even Drummond, the most hard-hearted 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 final scene 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. Together with Ballinger and Scully, they have perpetrated a scam on the five poker players, who had swindled the banker in a real estate deal sixteen years before. "Mary" is actually Ballinger's girlfriend Ruby. She had promised him she would give up gambling after the caper, but it becomes clear that she had no such intent when she sits down to another poker game.



Joanne Woodward was nominated for the Golden Laurel Award for Female Comedy Performance.[1]

See also


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