Saturday 16 November 2019

Movie Review: The Mississippi Gambler (1953)

A drama and romance set among the rich and adventurous in mid-1800s New Orleans, The Mississippi Gambler has no shortage of plot and is gorgeous to look at, but is also undermined by overflowing soapiness.

Mark Fallon (Tyrone Power) hails from a respected New York family but decides to seek a life of adventure as a professional riverboat gambler on the Mississippi River. He strikes a friendship with Kansas John Polly (John McIntire), and on their first sailing they meet the brother and sister duo of Angelique and Laurent Dureau (Piper Laurie and John Baer). Mark is immediately smitten with Angelique, but she is standoffish. Laurent is a weasel and covers his gambling losses with his sister's precious necklace.

In New Orleans Mark befriends Redmond Dureau (Paul Cavanagh), Angelique's father, and meets banker George Elwood (Ron Randell), who is trying to win her heart. Mark also helps Ann Conant (Julie Adams) when her brother commits suicide after incurring big gambling losses. Ann falls in love with Mark, Laurent falls in love with Ann, but Mark only has eyes for Angelique, as a series of high profile and self-inflicted tragedies strike the Dureau family.

A sprawling story featuring overlapping love triangles, multiple duels and tense poker table showdowns, The Mississippi Gambler moves quickly from one episode to the next. The overabundance of dramatic incidents combined with lavish sets, vivid colours and elegant wardrobes ensure the film is never slow or boring, but leave little room for reflection or character development.

If Mark Fallon left New York to find adventure, he is not disappointed. Director Rudolph Maté keeps the mood light and the pace fast by wedging an on-board ambush, two old fashioned duels-at-sunrise, a corporate bankruptcy, a suicide, an attempted murder, a business start-up venture and a couple of friendly fencing sessions in between all the romantic pursuits.

But the emotional core of the film is somewhat distant, as the central romance between Mark and Angelique sits on ice as he expresses his belief in a love she repeatedly rebuffs. As he waits for her heart to thaw, Ann develops a serious crush on Mark, the bland George adopts a slow and steady approach to win Angelique's hand in marriage if not her heart in love, and Laurent wastes no opportunity to make a fool of himself.

Mark and Redmond bond over a shared passion for adventurism, a common code of gentlemanly chivalrous living and an expertise in fencing, writer Seton I. Miller finding a way to salute Tyrone Power's swashbuckling past. The friendship between the two men unexpectedly emerges as the film's warmest element.

Tyrone Power easily represents the morally pure Mark Fallon in a role that suffers from a lack of any flaw. The supporting cast adequately portrays the high society of New Orleans, but all the characters are firmly defined in one non-evolving dimension. The Mississippi Gambler shuffles cards with admirable expertise, but deals with a flurry rather than deliberate focus.

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