Friday, April 17, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Black Midnight (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Thanks to an unusually busy schedule attending back-to-back-to-back film festivals here in the Los Angeles area over the past few weeks, I now have a nice stack of several Warner Archive DVDs accumulated to review in the near future! Stay tuned for posts on a number of interesting titles recently released by the Archive.

The first Warner Archive title up for review this weekend is BLACK MIDNIGHT (1949), a 66-minute Western which stars 20-year-old Roddy McDowall. BLACK MIDNIGHT was directed by the up-and-coming Oscar Boetticher, who of course would become better known under the name Budd Boetticher.

McDowall, who was born in September 1928, had a notable history as a superb child actor in films such as HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) and LASSIE COME HOME (1943). In the late '40s McDowall coproduced and starred in half a dozen films for Monogram Pictures, including two directed by Boetticher, BLACK MIDNIGHT and KILLER SHARK (1950).

BLACK MIDNIGHT begins in promising fashion, with a lovely orchestration of "Shenandoah" playing while the opening credits are shown over scenic shots of Lone Pine's Alabama Hills.

McDowall's Scott Jordan lives with his Uncle Bill (Damian O'Flynn) on a struggling ranch. Bill's black sheep son Daniel (Rand Brooks) arrives home after a long absence with a string of horses he claims to have bought. He's accompanied by Roy (Gordon Jones), his shady business partner who arouses suspicions in the sheriff (Kirby Grant).

Daniel tires of trying to tame a black stallion named Midnight, and Scott buys the horse from his cousin to save him from being shot, then works tirelessly to gentle him. Midnight's future is once again in doubt when Roy is trampled to death -- but Scott has evidence that Midnight killed Roy in self-defense.

Scott is aided by his childhood sweetheart Cindy (Lyn Thomas), who has recently returned to town with her widowed mother (Fay Baker from THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL) after a long absence.

At the outset of the film there's an odd, if memorable, moment when McDowall wakes up and immediately pets the mounted head of what appears to have been his pet dog. That's not something one sees every day (!).

As the film continues, it proves to be engagingly staged, with nice music, some interesting photographic angles, and an especially authentic "fresh air" feel -- you can almost see yourself standing right next to the camera in Lone Pine. The film has some of the best all-around use of the entire Lone Pine area I've ever seen in a single movie. The characters played by Baker and Thomas even live in the "Hoppy Cabin," which I photographed last fall; the well seen in the movie is also still there today.

The black and white photography was by William Sickner. This is a film fans of the Alabama Hills won't want to miss! It's also a great flick for fans of "B" Westerns in general, a real winner for me.

Lyn Thomas began in films in 1948; she was also in McDowall's Monogram production of BIG TIMBER (1950). Coincidentally, she played the wordless role of the woman George Sanders strangles in WITNESS TO MURDER (1954), which I saw just a few days ago at the Noir City Film Festival. Thomas continued acting in films and television until 1961. She passed away in Riverside, California, in 2004.

After his run at Monogram, McDowall worked almost exclusively in television for the duration of the 1950s, but he would later appear as a supporting actor in films such as MIDNIGHT LACE (1960), CLEOPATRA (1963), and THAT DARN CAT! (1965), while also continuing a very busy TV career.

This is the kind of movie I'm especially grateful to the Warner Archive for preserving and making available to new audiences. It's a beautiful print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive at the WBShop.


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