A Big Hand for the Little Lady

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A Big Hand for the Little Lady
A Big Hand for the Little Lady.jpg
Directed by Fielder Cook
Produced byFielder Cook
Written by Sidney Carroll
Based onBig Deal in Laredo
1962 NBC teleplay
by Sidney Carroll
Starring Henry Fonda
Joanne Woodward
Jason Robards
Music by David Raksin
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Edited byGeorge R. Rohrs
Color process Technicolor
Eden Productions Inc.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • May 31, 1966 (1966-05-31)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (released in the UK as Big Deal at Dodge City) is a 1966 American 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.


The film stars Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward and Jason Robards. The original TV play starred Walter Matthau as Meredith. [1]


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. 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?" At this, the other players object loudly, 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. Drummond 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.

In the end, it is revealed that Meredith, Mary, and even their "son" are confidence tricksters and expert card sharps. With the help of Scully—who dreams of romance far from the tedium and poverty of a country doctor's life—and at Ballinger's behest, they have perpetrated a scam on the other poker players, who had swindled the banker in a real estate deal sixteen years before. "Mary" is actually Ballinger's mistress, Ruby. She promised him she would give up gambling after the caper, but she sits down to another poker game, much to Ballinger's dismay, as the credits roll.



Joanne Woodward was nominated for the Golden Laurel Award for Female Comedy Performance. [2]


The New York Times' Robert Alden enjoyed the film, praising the “seasoned set of actors” in the cast: “They are a skillful bunch, and it is a pleasure seeing real film professionals having at each other. A foxier bunch of artful poker rascals would be hard to find” crediting Meredith with “perhaps the most memorable performance of the lot.” [3] Observing that “Lee Garmes, (is) one of the master camera hands of the West, and the roving camera eye of Mr. Garmes and company provides some of the film's best moments,” Alden adds “the mixing of comedy and tragedy is sometimes uncomfortable for an audience” seeing it for the first time. However, the “delightful surprise ending” ...”makes the feast worthwhile. “ [3]

As of January 2021, Rotten Tomatoes has no Tomatometer rating from critics. Its audience consensus is 85 percent favorable. [4]

See also

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  1. "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  2. A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) - Awards
  3. 1 2 Alden, Robert (1966-06-09). "Screen: Good Poker Tale:Little Lady's Big Hand Opens at 3 Houses (Published 1966)". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  4. A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) , retrieved 2021-01-24