Monday, January 22, 2018
5 Against the House
The film begins with four pals and college students ending their summer break with a stop in Reno. When they witness an attempted robbery at a casino, a cop tells them that the club can not be robbed. One of them (Kerwin Matthews) takes that as a challenge. Over the next few months he tinkers with a plan to do it, without keeping the money.
Meanwhile, Guy Madison tries to get his girl, Novak, to marry him. She's dated lots of college men (these guys are men, but it's explained that they are older than most college boys, because they were in the Korean War) and finds it hard to believe that Madison could want her. Brian Keith is Madison's best friend, but suffered a head wound in the war as well as what is now called PTSD, which can be brought upon when he gets mad.
Keith needs further treatment, bur refuses to go back to the Vet hospital. He seizes on Mathews' idea to the point of bringing a gun along to make sure everyone goes through with it. Madison and Novak sign on for a trip, without knowing about the robbery.
The heist itself, which doesn't make much sense (it involves putting a tape recorder in a money cart and pretending that there is a short man with a gun inside) only occupies the last few minutes of the film. Fortunately, that isn't as important as Keith's breakdown. He would go on to star in several sit-comes, including Family Affair, but his acting in 5 Against the House was mesmerizing.
Madison starred for many years on TV as Wild Bill Hickok, and Alvy Moore, as the fourth member (who is also cracking wise) played Mr. Kimball on Green Acres. Novak, who is today remembered almost entirely for Vertigo, was not a good actress, and proves it in this film. William Conrad, who had many TV and radio credits (he was Marshall Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke, and played the title role in Cannon) plays the casino worker who is the epicenter of the robbery.
As a heist movie, 5 Against the House is not all that good, but as a film about the casualties of war, it's very fine.