Torpid isn’t an adjective I get to use often, but I can’t think of a better one to describe The Mississippi Gambler. It’s a boring melodrama, trading entirely on the charisma of its cast–Tyrone Power might have been able to handle the weight, but the film concentrates on the loveless marriage of Piper Laurie (as she pines for Power) just when it needs him most. There are some fine moments throughout, particularly at the beginning, with Power and John McIntire working well together and the relationship between Power and Paul Cavanagh rather touching. But the story skips ahead way too often, passing over indeterminate months, until all the dramatic import is lost.
Bad acting from principle supporting cast members doesn’t help. John Baer’s particularly terrible, but Ron Randall isn’t much better. Most of their scenes are with Laurie and her performance is strong enough it’s inconceivable she’d be so devoted to such a pair of rubes. Some of the problem is with the script–Power, McIntire and Cavanagh are positioned as real men, while everyone else is a fop or dandy. It’s a goofy approach and somewhat nonsensical (there’s a lot of strong homoerotic undercurrents between Baer and Randall–and Baer’s devotion to sister Laurie is positively disturbing).
While Rudolph Maté’s direction isn’t bad, it’s certainly middling. The film’s got rather opulent sets and Maté shoots them to good effect, but that compliment’s probably the best one I can come up with. He’s got some strange composition–lots of backs of heads–and the film’s inability to convey any passage of time is partially his fault. Even if he didn’t choose to use fades to black or didn’t insist the script fit together, in terms of consecutive visual action, he still could have done something. It’s kind of his job, right?
Still, as boring as the film gets–as bad as Frank Skinner’s music gets and it gets bad–The Mississippi Gambler is never downright terrible. Power can do this kind of thing in his sleep; some of his performance here is certainly semi-conscious. McIntire and Cavanagh both make the most of their scenes. Julie Adams is fine in one of the script’s more useless, melodrama only roles.
It’s actually a perfect example of a melodrama. Nothing in the film doesn’t exist solely to advance the plot to its preordained conclusion. In the third act, as the pieces fall into place for the inevitable to occur, the film decides to take forever to get there, which gets really irritating.
I suppose Irving Glassberg’s Technicolor cinematography is pretty enough. I already complimented the sets too… The Mississippi Gambler is simply an excruciating ninety-nine minutes. Seton I. Miller seems to have written as many scenes as possible–I should have counted–with the idea enough of them would make a full narrative. Unsurprisingly, his experiment fails. He’s not even a bad writer–some of his dialogue and humor works and he has a handful of solid character relationships–he’s just a terrible plotter. What should have been surefire–Power as a charming gambler–is instead a big snooze.
But it’s still somehow competent.
Directed by Rudolph Maté; written by Seton I. Miller; director of photography, Irving Glassberg; edited by Edward Curtiss; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ted Richmond; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Tyrone Power (Mark Fallon), Piper Laurie (Angelique Dureau), Julie Adams (Ann Conant), John McIntire (Kansas John Polly), Paul Cavanagh (Edmond Dureau), John Baer (Laurent Dureau), Ron Randell (George Elwood), Ralph Dumke (F. Montague Caldwell), Robert Warwick (Gov. Paul Monet), William Reynolds (Pierre Loyette) and Guy Williams (Andre Brion).
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