Saturday, May 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Black Patch (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BLACK PATCH (1957), a Western starring and produced by George Montgomery, was just released by the Warner Archive.

Montgomery plays the title character, otherwise known as Marshal Clay Morgan of Santa Rita. Clay's old friend Hank Danner (Leo Gordon) shows up in town with his wife Helen (Diane Brewster, who later costarred with Montgomery in KING OF THE WILD STALLIONS). Clay and Helen were once in love, but Clay was too traumatized by his Civil War experiences and the loss of his eye to return home to her.

After absorbing the news that Hank and Helen have married, Clay is further stunned when he must arrest Hank for bank robbery. Then things really go downhill when Hank tries to escape...

The screenplay by costar Leo Gordon starts out in very strong fashion, with memorable character introductions aided by Edward Goldman's stark black and white photography. An emotional middle-of-the-night scene where Helen leaves her hotel room -- and husband -- in her bathrobe to see Clay is beautifully staged and powerfully scored by Jerry Goldsmith, his very first feature film.

There are some other well-done moments such as the scene where Clay goes to see Hank at the hotel just after Hank has arrived in town and been reunited with Helen. The simple fact that Hank takes a while to answer the door and then is seen putting on his shirt subtly makes clear to viewers what kind of reunion Hank has just enjoyed with his wife...and then suddenly there stands her old love in the doorway. There's some great three-way tension between Montgomery, Gordon, and Brewster, as they all care for one another, but the old positive feelings of love or friendship are mixed with hurt and jealousy.

Unfortunately shortly after Hank breaks out of jail the script takes its eye off the lead characters and significantly shifts focus to bird-brained young Carl (Tom Pittman), who is obsessed with Helen and guns, and other town villains such as saloon owner Frenchy (Sebastian Cabot). In its stranger moments the film suddenly seems closer to TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) than a George Montgomery Western!

The combination of the focus on unappealing characters while Montgomery is nowhere in sight for far too much screen time results in a disappointing Western which had had the potential to be far more interesting. Montgomery is superb as the tormented Clay, giving one of his most deeply felt portrayals; it would have been great if the script had focused on issues such as Clay coming to terms with his past and making peace with Helen. The viewer cares a great deal about Clay, yet instead spends most of the second half of the film with the people who are making his life miserable.

Lynn Cartwright, who was Mrs. Leo Gordon, plays the saloon girl Kitty. I recently had the wonderful experience of briefly meeting Gordon and Cartwright's daughter, who works at the Hollywood Museum, and I was able to tell her how much pleasure her father's work has brought me over the years. He was certainly a multitalented man.

The supporting cast also includes House Peters Jr., Jorge Trevino, Strother Martin, and Ned Glass. Look for Dan Blocker in a brief role as a blacksmith.

BLACK PATCH was directed by Allen H. Miner. It runs 82 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine-looking crisp print. There are no extras.

Update: For more info on this movie, including some production background, please visit Toby's post at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

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 WBShop.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Good to see this George Montgomery vehicle reviewed by you, Laura!
This is one I first saw on release on the big screen c. 1958. Even at my young age (then) I can remember it not being one of the best new westerns I was seeing (and I was being taken to see several around that time). I preferred his next one "KING OF THE WILD STALLIONS". Having Leo Gordon on board is a definite plus but the film lacks consistency unfortunately. I only re-watched it for the first time quite recently and my opinion is pretty much unchanged. But - heck - it's still George and I am glad to have it nonetheless!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Yes, even with the movie's flaws, George alone is draw for me too, more so when you say it's one of his better roles.

4:54 PM  

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