“A Big Hand for the Little Lady” is a western comedy film released in 1966, directed by Fielder Cook. The storyline unfolds in the heartland of America and pivots around a high-stake poker game that entangles its characters in a web of suspense, comedy, and drama.

Opening Scene: The Poker Game Commences

The movie opens in Laredo, Texas, where the annual high-stakes poker game attracts the wealthiest men from across the region. As these men sit down to play, we’re introduced to the core characters whose fates will be humorously and dramatically intertwined.

The Plot Thickens: The Family’s Arrival

Into this milieu arrives the charming yet hapless family of Meredith (Henry Fonda), his wife Mary (Joanne Woodward), and their son. Meredith, unable to resist the pull of the game, stakes all the family’s savings to join the gamble.

Climactic Turn: Meredith’s Collapse

In a turn of the heart-stopping drama, as the game’s tension peaks, Meredith suffers a sudden collapse, leaving the family’s fate hanging by a thread.

The Twist: Mary Takes the Reins

Mary, initially unfamiliar with gambling’s ruthless world, steps in to cover her husband’s position at the table. Her transformation from a docile housewife to a cunning poker player serves as the central pivot of the film.

Iconic Scenes and Artistic Nuances

  • The Hand Reveal: The revelation of the poker hand that Meredith holds becomes a critical moment of suspense, masterfully executed with the camera focusing on the reactions of the players and the spectators, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats.
  • Mary’s Showdown: The climactic scene where Mary takes on the seasoned gamblers, exhibiting a surprising knack for poker, challenges the stereotypes of the demure woman prevalent at the time.
  • The Unexpected Finale: The film concludes with an unexpected twist, subverting the traditional narrative and leaving audiences with a humorous yet reflective ending.

Societal Impact and Cultural Reflections

  • Gender Role Subversion: At a time when women’s liberation was gaining momentum, Mary’s character offered a subtle nod to the shifting paradigms in gender roles, presenting a female character breaking free from societal expectations.
  • The American Dream Critique: The portrayal of the high-stakes poker game as a microcosm for capitalism reflects the allure and the perils of the American Dream, resonating with audiences during the 60s.
  • Reflection on Gambling Culture: The film provided commentary on the gambling culture, a vice that has been both demonized and romanticized in American history and literature.
  • Cinematic Style: The movie’s blend of Western setting with comedic elements was part of a broader trend in the 60s, where genres were being mixed in new and interesting ways to keep classic genres fresh for audiences.


Q: What does “A Big Hand for the Little Lady” reveal about the societal attitudes of the 1960s? A: The film mirrors the evolving attitudes towards gender roles and the skepticism of the American Dream that were prominent in the 1960s cultural landscape.

Q: How does the film’s humor play into its cultural impact? A: The humor serves as a vehicle to explore and critique societal norms, using irony and wit to comment on the human condition and societal expectations.


“A Big Hand for the Little Lady” stands as a film that not only provided entertainment but also subtly commented on the social changes and the enduring American mythos. Its deft blend of tension, humor, and drama ensures its place in the canon of mid-20th-century cinema.


Q: How did the film’s portrayal of poker influence the audience’s view of the game? A: It both romanticized and satirized the game, depicting poker as a cerebral and dramatic pursuit that can be both enthralling and perilous.

Q: Can the film be seen as a feminist statement? A: While not overtly feminist, the film can be interpreted as a commentary on women’s underestimated capabilities and societal roles, offering a forward-thinking perspective for its time.