THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER is a nicely decked-out 1953 period adventure drama that plays easy on the eyes even when the script deals some dud hands. Set in the pre-Civil War days, the action takes place in and around New Orleans, and on the sleek riverboats that paddle-wheeled the regional waters.
Tyrone Power, ever-handsome and underplaying confidently, seems perfectly cast in the title role, an honor-bound jack-of-all-spades who incurs the admiration or envy, love or loathing of all he meets, including spoiled belle Piper Laurie, gentleman rake Paul Cavanaugh, and a batch of Universal’s resident contracted young turks—William Reynolds, Dennis Weaver, Guy Williams, Ron Randell among them.
Partisans of The Cleaver Family, take note that behind a mustache and under a top hat lurks Hugh Beaumont, on hand for a few scenes. Rudolph Mate directed rather flatly, and the pace is slow, despite some duels, brawls and a voodoo dance of erotic abandon from Gwen Verdon that’ll get you to chuckling.
Seton Miller’s script is papier-mache, with the love scene dialogue clinking louder than Tyrone’s cojones. Along with Power, what makes this watchable is the pretty color, the above-average costume design and set decor, and occasional moments that rise above the synthetic to waft some atmospheric nostalgia on days of cards, cads & cavaliers long past. Frank Skinner’s music score makes sentimentally right use of banjos, ala Stephen Foster. I’d like a julep and a new deck, if the gentleman has no objection…