5 Against the House-1955
Starring-Brian Keith, Kim Novak
Scott’s Review #998
Reviewed March 11, 2020
5 Against the House (1955) is a film that may have influenced heist films such as the Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 (1960) or countless other films featuring groups of young men holding up an establishment for money. The film is mediocre and lacks much that is memorable as nothing distinguishes it from other similar themed genre films. Star Brian Keith is charismatic in the lead, but chemistry with the ravishing Kim Novak goes nowhere with any of the actors. The film is mildly interesting with a few tense moments, but little more.
Four Midwestern University college pals, Brick (Keith), Al (Guy Madison), Ronnie, and Roy, devise a grand casino heist while drunk and partying one weekend in Reno. The idea is to go through with their plan and then return the cash, just to prove they can get away with the high-stakes prank. But when one of the group betrays the others and plots to keep the money for himself, he imperils them all. Novak plays Kaye, girlfriend of Al, who recently has become a singer at a local nightclub.
The standouts from the cast are Keith and William Conrad and this might be more because the then unknown actors became television stars in later years, for Family Affair and Jake and the Fat Man, respectively. Keith is great in the lead role of Brick, the tormented and conflicted ex-veteran of the Korean War, unable to forget tragedies he saw while abroad. He is a cool every man with an edge, angry and out to prove something to the world. He also needs the money that the heist will provide him. The character is interesting and empathetic.
Conrad is gruff and memorable in the role of a cart operator, who plays an important role in the film’s finale. Sent to retrieve cash from the money room, using the prerecorded message to make him believe that there is a desperate man with a gun in the cart who will shoot him if he does not cooperate, Conrad does wonders with his eyes and facial expressions.
The luscious Novak, soon to be a household name in the stunning and cerebral Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo (1958), is not very compelling as Kaye. The main reason is that she has little to do but stand around and serve as window dressing. This is too bad as the actress has talent and charisma for miles, but this work is beneath her. Not her debut, but one of her early films, what’s a girl to do? To add insult to injury, her voice was dubbed by another singer. Novak clearly needed the paycheck.
Director, Phil Karlson is unsuccessful at bringing the picture full- circle but does pepper in some nice exterior night scenes of Reno. The casino sequences are also commendable with proper zesty and flashy set pieces when appropriate. But trimmings never make a film complete and 5 Against the House needs more meat on the bone than it serves up.
The heist is the main attraction as it always is in these types of films. Some tension does exist but not enough, and the finale is a letdown. After the robbery, which is unspectacular, Brick leaves the others behind and escapes with the money, and a pursuit ensues. Kaye, having alerted police, follows them, and a tepid standoff follows. Ultimately, Brick changes his mind while Al and Kaye embrace on a crowded street. The feeble final scene is meant as a romantic sendoff between Al and Kaye, who didn’t have chemistry to begin with.
5 Against the House (1955) contains an adequate cast and a few positive tidbits worth mentioning, but the story is way too predictable, the conclusion, which should be the high-point disappoints, and the actors are too old to be believable as college-aged students. Many other film noir or heist films released before or after this film are superior and better crafted.