5 Against the House

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5 Against the House
Poster - 5 Against the House 04.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Phil Karlson
Produced by Stirling Silliphant
John Barnwell
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant
William Bowers
John Barnwell
Frank Tashlin (uncredited)
Based on the novel 5 Against the House 
by Jack Finney
Starring Guy Madison
Kim Novak
Brian Keith
Music by George Duning
Cinematography Lester White
Edited by Jerome Thoms
Dayle Production
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Corporation
Release dates
  • June 10, 1955 (1955-06-10) (United States)
Running time
84 minutes
Country United States

5 Against the House is a 1955 American heist film noir based on a story by Jack Finney, starring Guy Madison, Brian Keith, and Kim Novak, in one of her first film appearances. It was directed by Phil Karlson. The movie centers on a fictional robbery of what was a real Nevada casino, Harold's Club. The supporting cast includes William Conrad. The screenplay was based on Jack Finney's 1954 novel of the same name, which was later serialized by Good Housekeeping magazine.[1]


During a weekend side-trip to Reno, Nevada, college friends Brick (Keith), Al (Madison), Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews) and Roy (Alvy Moore) visit the famous casino Harold's Club.

After an hour spent gambling and socializing, the group prepares to leave. Ronnie, however, has lost money playing roulette, and must cash a check at the cashier's window. He is accompanied there by Roy but, unbeknownst to either of them, the cashier is being threatened by a man with a gun. Using a concealed security alarm, the cashier alerts casino officials who then converge on the window believing that Roy and Ronnie are also involved in the attempted robbery. All three are apprehended. Outside the casino moments later, Al persuades the police to release Roy and Ronnie, but the inquisitive Ronnie has already become obsessed with the concept of a spectacular casino robbery, and he begins forming his own plans to rob Harold's Club after he overhears one of the police officers say, “There's no way it (robbing Harold's Club) can be done.”

Once back at college, the incident is seemingly forgotten, though Ronnie begins developing his plans in earnest whilst the others are preoccupied by the beginning of the new term. Al also reestablishes his relationship with his girlfriend, Kaye (Kim Novak), who has recently become a singer at a local nightclub. Al takes Brick, Roy and Ronnie to see one of her shows. After the performance, Brick, a Korean War veteran, is provoked into fighting a fellow student over a former girlfriend and, afterward, he suffers from the effects of a dissociative psychotic episode due to an ongoing battle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Later in the night, Al encourages a distraught Brick to return to a veteran’s hospital for treatment, but he refuses.

Some time later, Ronnie finalizes his plan to rob Harold’s Club. Claiming that the robbery would be an adventurous “first” [experience] in their otherwise ordinary lives, Ronnie reveals the plan to Brick and Roy, maintaining that if the robbery were a success, all the stolen money would be returned, thereby ensuring that no one involved would be guilty of a prosecutable crime. Though initially skeptical, Brick and Roy gradually abandon their misgivings. The wealthy Ronnie then uses his personal inheritance funds to purchase an untraceable trailer and car and fabricate a wooden cart that is identical to the cash carts used at Harold's — the most important component of the heist.

Though his preparations are complete, Ronnie determines that the robbery can only go ahead if Al participates, maintaining that at least four people will be needed for the dangerously complex operation. But Brick, Roy and Ronnie agree that Al will not go along with the robbery if he is made aware of it beforehand. Coincidentally, the day before the robbery, Al proposes to Kaye, and they decide to go to Reno with the others to get married right away.

On the way to Reno, Al recognizes the cart's design while riding in the trailer and inadvertently triggers play of a sinister audio recording activated by a button on the cart's handle and played by a small reel-to-reel recorder hidden inside the cart itself. Ronnie reveals his robbery plans to Kaye and Al. Shocked, they refuse to participate.

Brick then intervenes. Pulling a hidden revolver from his baggage, Brick seizes control of the robbery. Fearing a life of destitution and confinement, the increasingly volatile and disturbed Brick explains that the robbery will go ahead as intended, despite Al and Kaye’s objections, but with one significant exception: the money will not be returned to the casino. Brick threatens to kill Al if anyone attempts to sabotage the plan.

Once they arrive at the casino, the robbery is carried out efficiently as Reno’s casino district is filled with costumed partiers celebrating a distracting cowboy-themed fête. In the chaotic festivities the disguised Brick, Ronnie and Al blend into the crowd, going unnoticed by casino security while convincing a cart operator (William Conrad) to retrieve cash from the casino's money room through a clever ploy — using the prerecorded message on the counterfeit cart's tape recorder to make the cart operator believe that there's a desperate man with a gun in the cart who will shoot him if he doesn't play along.

After the final moments of the robbery, Brick leaves the others behind and escapes with the money, but Al pursues him into a casino parking structure. Kaye, having alerted police, follows them, and a tense standoff takes place. Ultimately, Al convinces Brick to give up peacefully and the gathered police officers escort Brick from the scene while promising to treat him fairly. No one else is arrested and, in the final shot, Al and Kaye embrace on a crowded street.



Brian Keith in the trailer

Critical response[edit]

The film was praised upon its release by the A. H. Wiler, the film critic at The New York Times, which cited, "brisk direction, crisp, idiomatic and truly comic dialogue" as being chief among its positive qualities, but held reservations about the film's development of characters and back-story.[2] Contemporary reviewer Richard Harland Smith has reported that Kim Novak received, "favorable, albeit condescending reviews" for her portrayal of "night-club chanteuse" Kaye Greylek, which improved her status at Columbia Pictures.[3]


Released in 1955, 5 Against the House is an early example of a filmed heist, and an early film depiction of casino-robbery, to be later typified by, among others, Ocean's 11, its remake and sequels. Martin Scorsese has thus specifically indicated that his 1995 film Casino was influenced by Karlson's own production.[4] Additionally, though not her film debut, the film was one of future-star Kim Novak's first screen appearances; Novak was one of the last film stars to be signed to a studio contract and to be recruited through the "old studio system" by producer Harry Cohn.[5]

Home media[edit]

On November 3, 2009, Sony Pictures released the film on standard-definition DVD as a part of their collection Film Noir Classics, Volume I with other early noir films The Big Heat, The Lineup, Murder by Contract, and The Sniper. The DVD includes film introductions and commentaries by notable filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Christopher Nolan and authors Eddie Muller and James Ellroy.[6]


  1. ^ 5 Against the House at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. ^ Wiler, A.H. The New York Times, film review, "Harold's Club Foils Five Against the House", June 11, 1955. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  3. ^ Smith, Richard Harland. Turner Classic Movies, film analysis, "Spotlight 5 Against the House", no date. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  4. ^ Smith, Richard Harland. Ibid. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  5. ^ Shales, Tom. Washington Post, interview, "Kim Novak: No Fear of Falling", October 14, 1996. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  6. ^ Allmovie by Rovi. "Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1", DVD release, November 3, 2009. Accessed: August 1, 2013.

External links[edit]