Fine Western Drama in The Mississippi Gambler
From Hollywood’s golden age, The Mississippi Gambler combines impressive sets, lavish costumes and a large cast in a sequence of eye-catching set-pieces, to tell a tale of high-stakes card play and, of course, a somewhat melodramatic love story. Made in 1953, The Mississippi Gambler stars Tyrone Power and Piper Laurie, along with a solid cast of supporting players.
The film was directed by Rudolph Mate and filmed in Technicolor, which at the time still counted as an added attraction. It is set in the late 19th Century, and the action takes place in the gambling saloons of Mississippi riverboats and in New Orleans. The Mississippi Gambler was one of Power’s last films, as he was focusing more on stage work in the last years of his life. It also helped establish Laurie as a leading lady, and performed well at the box office to favourable reviews from the critics.
Promoting Legitimate Gambling
The plot of The Mississippi Gambler centres on Power’s character, Mark Fallon, a New Yorker who has relocated to the Mississippi riverboats with the intention of running clean Poker games, in contrast to the many crooked card sharps working the river. He impresses an old gambler by the name of Kansas John Polly, and the two team up for a trip down the river. They meet the rich and dishonest F. Montague Caldwell, and after Mark exposes him as a cheat and demands a new pack of cards, he cleans up the table.
Among the losers is Laurent, a young man whose sister, Angelique, Mark had met earlier and developed an interest in. Angelique is played by Piper Laurie. Laurent steals his sister’s diamond necklace to pay his debt to Mark, and when Mark tries to return it to Angelique, she proudly rebuffs him. Mark and Kansas John have to flee the boat when Caldwell and a group of henchman try to ambush them.
Hopeless Loves Lead to Duels
The Mississippi Gambler capitalises on Power’s reputation as an action hero; when he’s not the suave gambler at the tables, he’s a two-fisted battler. After the fight on the riverboat, Mark arrives in New Orleans and rediscovers his passion for fencing, learnt from his father, who was a master fencer. At the fencing academy, he meets Angelique and Laurent’s father, an honourable old New Orleans grandee by the name of Edmond Dureau.
He and Mark strike up a friendship, despite his children’s antipathy to the gambler. Denying that she has any feelings for Mark, Angelique marries a banker. Mark opens a successful casino, but when he tries to help out Ann, the sister of an unlucky gambler who killed himself, Laurent happens to meet Ann and fall in love with her. She, of course, is in love with Mark, who is not interested in her because he is still pining for Angelique, so impetuous Laurent challenges Mark to a duel.
Disaster and Redemption
In a fit of panic, Laurent fires early in the duel, disgracing himself. Mark compounds his humiliation by refusing to shoot him. When someone else casts aspersions on Mark’s relationship with Ann in Edmond’s hearing, Edmond also initiates a duel, in which he is mortally wounded.
Mark promises that he will protect Angelique as Edmond lies on his deathbed. When Angelique’s banker husband absconds with the funds of several clients, including Mark’s casino, Angelique is left abandoned and Mark is again penniless. He returns to riverboat gambling, but this time, Angelique has decided where her heart lies, and goes with him.