Well, it would seem that Tyrone Power’s Mark Fallon can’t catch a break. Despite remaining honorable and showing compassion, it would seem that dishonorable and disreputable people try to bring about his ruination. The Mississippi Gambler is the story of one gambler’s efforts to succeed while also acting morally and ethically. This was a principle that I enjoyed watching, as I wondered whether his conviction would waver as the film went on. I mean, in a land of cheats and dishonor, how can one expect to remain honorable in kind? However, such ethics make for a compelling character, and that is certainly the case here. In fact, when we first meet Mark Fallon, his first official act is to bust and convert a would-be con man. Fallon’s charisma is such that he and this con man forge a unlikely friendship and bond. The backdrop is the Mississippi River and New Orleans, which worked well for the film’s purposes, providing a sophisticated and elegant background for the film. Rounding out the cast is Piper Laurie of The Hustler and Carrie fame, Julie Adams of The Creature from the Black Lagoon fame, and John McIntire of westerns Wagon Train and The Virginian fame.
Going into the film, I wasn’t expecting much; I’d assumed that much of its context would be lost to me given the passage of the time. Fortunately, I was mistaken, as the principles of the film are timeless and significant. Fair play seems to be the underlying principle of the film, and it is something that I’m sad to say that our protagonist rarely gets. Despite conducting himself with civility and class, those around him, those who supposedly grew up in the upper class, continuously revealed themselves to be his lessers. Take his interactions with Laurent Dureau, an entitled and conniving southern gentleman. Laurent early on shows himself to be the type who expects everything to be handed to him. For example, after losing consistently and amassing a significant debt to Fallon, he steals heirloom jewelry from his sister without her knowledge to pay the debt. When confronted with this treachery, he suggests Fallon cheated him rather than own up to his responsibilities. This has the unfortunate side effect of souring his sister Angelique’s perceptions of Fallon, who is quite taken with her.
This is the least of Laurent’s transgressions, as he seemingly takes on the role of antagonist in the film. At the heart of Laurent’s disputes with Fallon is jealousy, particularly over the affections of sisters, as well as another young woman, who is introduced as an alternative to Fallon’s affections for Angelique. This relationship was of particular interest to me, as there is clear bond between the characters of Ann Conant and Mark Fallon. However, this bond is forged through tragedy and a sense of misplaced guilt and obligation. Despite this, I would argue that the chemistry between these characters is stronger than that of Fallon and Angelique. However, the Fallon-Angelique relationship was always going to be clear for the simple fact that she was playing hard to get and your basic enemies-to-lovers trope.
Fortunately, despite knowing how it will likely inevitably end, they don’t make it easy. There are many obstacles to this potential romance, many of which have Laurent as the cause of them. It did not disappoint in this regard, as I found myself questioning if the two would actually end up together. There was much in their way, and more often than not Fallon, despite the best of intentions, ended up looking like the villain in the eyes of Angelique.
The character of Angelique was an interesting one. She is willful and determined, but also fiercely loyal to those she loves, especially her brother. She will not let anyone speak ill of him, even if it is warranted. She even goes as far as to stand up to her father in defense of her brother, an act that strains their relationship for a time. While her faith is misplaced, I still had a great deal of respect for her loyalty to those she loved, even though it costs her more than once.
The film is rich with quality characters; however, the breakout is clearly Mark Fallon, our honorable man in a sea of dishonorable types. He is our everyman, and we want to see him succeed. He is a man for which whom things don’t always go his way, and he finds his life threatened more than once for doing what is right. And despite all of this, he keeps his strength of character, often acting against his own self-interest in the name of what is right and ethical. How can you not enjoy a character like that? I would argue that this was a career-defining role if not for his resume of swashbuckling career-defining roles, which include Jesse James, The Mark of Zorro, and The Black Swan.
As I said, this was not a movie I expected much out oft, but I must admit, it was a character-driven story which held my attention for the duration. I wouldn’t be surprised if I pulled it out again for another viewing sometime soon in the future. You never know when you need to watch a film with a good old-fashioned honorable protagonist.