Black Patch

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure how appropriate it is to talk of boundaries in relation to movies, especially if we’re  going to acknowledge that they are a form of artistic expression. Nevertheless, when it comes to assessing a movie, to applying some critical thought to what’s presented there on the screen,  it’s difficult to get away from the concept of boundaries. Watching Black Patch (1957) had me wondering about where, or indeed how, one goes about fixing the boundary between a work which is merely interesting and one which can be seen as successful. Black Patch fell into that  grey area for me, not failing but not quite working as well as one might hope either.

Low budget movies have to employ a little more creativity, or trickery if you want to take the cynical view, to work around the limited resources. This can operate in a movie’s favor if it’s handled effectively. Here the opening uses a simple technique to hook the viewer, having a dramatic event occur off screen. This narrative, and financial, economy arouses one’s curiosity over what just happened, instigating an itch that needs to be scratched. The event is later revealed to be a robbery, or its aftermath anyway, carried out by Hank Danner (Leo Gordon). Danner’s journey will take him to a small western settlement, typical in its closed character. There we see one of those cinematic coincidences appear – the town marshal Clay Morgan (George Montgomery) is an old acquaintance of Danner’s, with the additional complication that he was also once in love with the current Mrs Danner (Diane Brewster). At this point I thought I knew exactly where the story was heading, but to give the writer (that man Leo Gordon again) his due it veers off in a very different direction. To some extent the two old friends are pitted against one another but a further violent incident and a rather shocking death in the middle of the movie alters everything. Perhaps I’m being annoyingly vague or oblique here but I’d prefer people who haven’t seen the movie to come to this fresh. What I will say, however, is that this represents the point where I feel the movie becomes problematic.

Now, when I say problematic I’m thinking of the script first and foremost. Gordon had set up a fascinating situation, a classic emotional triangle with a number of original touches to add freshness. However, for me anyway, the subsequent actions of the marshal and the young man (Tom Pittman) who plays an increasingly prominent role in the tale lack a certain logic. The marshal’s behavior regarding the stolen money feels entirely out of character and does not seem credible, neither in relation to what came before nor what follows. I can see how Gordon was casting around for a reason to bolster the growing hostility in town but it didn’t convince me at all. Then there’s the matter of the sudden transformation of Pittman’s callow youngster into  a dangerous gunslinger. Again, this is too abrupt and gave me the impression of a contrivance as opposed to a natural progression within the narrative framework. Others may well disagree but these shifts weakened the whole picture in my view.

So there’s there’s the boundary I spoke of at the beginning; a gear change in the writing that lacked smoothness and instead had that grinding and jarring effect that’s hard to ignore. That said, the movie is never less than interesting and I felt great satisfaction not only at the uplifting way the plot resolves itself but also at the filmmaker’s bold decision to show restraint and end it all at the natural climax rather than allow it to run on for no better reason than showing some frankly redundant gun play. I was impressed by how much value Allen H Miner was able to draw from limited resources when I viewed The Ride Back last year and his work here is every bit as stylish. It’s shot almost exclusively on the backlot and sets, and Edward Colman’s cinematography takes full advantage of that controlled environment to paint the kind of images that we tend to associate with film noir. What’s more, the movie has the distinction of featuring the debut score by Jerry Goldsmith.

This was the second George Montgomery western I’d watched in close proximity and I had a better time overall with this one – the other, for the curious out there, was Robbers’ Roost but that’s a story for a different day. What I’ve seen of Montgomery’s work so far tends to bring out his easy charm, his solidity in a leading role. But Black Patch is different; he’s not playing a man at ease in any sense of the word, the self-conscious way he massages his eye-patch when alone or stressed is indicative of a man  made suddenly aware of his own frailty, and his shifty behavior when confronted with evidence of his friend’s wrongdoing is very nicely realized too. For all that, it’s clear throughout that his inner core is strong, his essential integrity uncompromised – the image of him sitting alone in the living room of his home as the rocks and taunts come through the window is a powerful one. Mind you, that brings me back to that inconsistency in the writing I mentioned above and which does not jibe with what we see of the man elsewhere.

Of the others, Leo Gordon gives a typically muscular performance. Tom Pittman comes into the movie much more in the second half and is fine at conveying the confusion and turmoil of a youth who suddenly finds himself fulfilling a role he had dreamed of yet is not at all prepared for. Diane Brewster is good enough as the woman at the center of the conflict but the part actually offers less than one might imagine. The striking Lynn Cartwright (Mrs Leo Gordon in real life) has a juicy little role as the mistress of the principal villain and suffers some appalling treatment at his hands. That villain is portrayed with bombastic, bullying relish by a harpsichord-playing Sebastian Cabot. Some other familiar faces making appearances are House Peters Jr, Strother Martin and Ned Glass.

Black Patch has been released on DVD in the US via the Warner Archive and there’s also a German version available. I think it was out in the UK years ago, but that may have been presented in the incorrect aspect ratio. So, as I stated at the top of this piece, I’m not sure this movie works as well as it might. I’m not convinced by aspects of the script yet the performances, cinematography, and a fine conclusion all give it a boost. It might not be a great movie but it’s never less than interesting.

Deported

Time for another guest post, once again courtesy of Gordon Gates. It’s a classic era film noir, so it slots right into his comfort zone. Seeing as it’s a Universal-International property, albeit yet another of the elusive ones, it probably belongs in the comfort zone of a few regular visitors here too.

There are many directors who are held in high esteem by fans of film noir, and of cinema in general. These include: Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Phil Karlson, John Huston, Jules Dassin, Jacques Tourneur, Anthony Mann and of course, Robert Siodmak. Siodmak hit the ground running in 1944 with a string of nine successful films noir starting with Phantom Lady. This was followed by Christmas Holiday, The Suspect, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross and The File on Thelma Jordan. The 11th noir wasn’t so successful, this was 1950’s Deported, shot on location in Italy.

A ship docks in Naples and starts off-loading cargo and one man, Victor Mario Sparducci. Sparducci is played by Jeff Chandler, who is a mobster going by the name, Vic Smith. Chandler has just finished a 5 year prison bit for a $100,000 robbery. The cash was never recovered by the Police. Chandler, after he finished his term, was escorted to the docks and deported back to the old country. This is before he can grab the $100,000.

Chandler is barely off the docks in Naples when he runs into the pretty, Marina Berti. Berti invites Chandler to her rooms for a drink and a cuddle, which our man Jeff is all too happy to accept. This of course does not go as Chandler had expected. Waiting for him at Berti’s place is fellow mobster, Richard Rober. Rober has followed Chandler from the States. He is not amused that he never got his cut of the $100,000 holdup the two had arranged.

Some less than friendly words and fists are exchanged over the financial situation, with Rober being laid out. Chandler informs Rober that he intends to keep the whole take. “I did five years for that money, so as far as I’m concerned, it is mine.” Chandler then tells Rober to stay away, or he will kill him.

 

Chandler then heads for the small village his family had left when he was a child. He hides out with his uncle, Silvio Mincioti, while he plans a way to get his cash over to him from the States. Chandler soon hooks up with the village’s black market boss, Carlo Rizzo. He figures he will need Rizzo’s help once he comes up with a plan to retrieve his cash.

While all this is going on, Chandler finds time to romance local beauty, Marta Toren. Toren is a wealthy widow who spends her time doing charity work for the local poor. Toren soon falls for the rather rough around the edges Chandler.

This all happens in the first 20 minutes. The film then loses steam and becomes a travelogue for the next 30 plus minutes. This seemed to be a regular problem with American films being made overseas at the time. There really is no on screen sparks between Chandler and Toren. Their scenes together are more or less dead time. The film however, does catch fire again in the last 10 minutes.

Chandler has found the perfect way to get his cash from the States. He cables the person in the States holding his money, to buy 100 grand worth of food and medical supplies. These he has shipped to Italy to be given to the village. The trick here is that Chandler intends to hi-jack the items, then, sell them on the black market for 5 times the cost.

The viewer of course know there is going to be a falling out with Chandler and the black market types. There is also the added complication that Rober is back in play. The mandatory guns are produced and some well done violence ensues.

Also in the film is Claude Dauphin and if you look close and you will spot bit players Tito Vuolo and Vito Scotti.
The director of photography is Oscar winner, William H. Daniels. His noir work includes, Brute Force, Lured, The Naked City, Illegal Entry, Abandoned, Winchester ’73, Woman in Hiding and Forbidden. He also did the last reviewed film here by Colin, Foxfire.
The screenplay was by one time Oscar nominated Robert Buckner. Buckner also produced the film.
Considering all the talent involved is this film, it does not hit the mark. There are parts here that are quite well handled, but the quick start and the finish are not quite enough to save the film from at best, just being average. It suffers from a tad too much dead time. For a Siodmak film, I found it rather disappointing.
(INFO) All three of the leads died before their time with Toren going at 31, Rober at 42 and Chandler at 43.
The only means of viewing the movie at the moment appears to be online – https://ok.ru/video/772666952344
Gordon Gates

Foxfire

On the outside looking in doesn’t do anybody any good.

That one casual line in Foxfire (1955), spoken by one of the most hard done by and neglected characters in the movie as it happens, goes a long way towards catching the spirit and flavor of the entire picture. In a sense, all of the characters are outsiders in their individual worlds, some by chance and others by choice or design. This is a strong theme, one many of us will be able to identify with at some point in our lives and thus a solid bedrock on which to construct this story which I’d say is three parts melodrama and one part modern western. That part picks up on and weaves into the blend perhaps one of the more interesting, challenging and progressive thematic threads to be found in the fabric of the 1950s western, the clash of cultures which was inevitable in a new land and the dramatic tension growing out of that.

A desert highway, one of those arrow straight and seemingly endless thoroughfares that we viewers have traveled many times. Our companion on this occasion is a lone woman, Amanda Lawrence (Jane Russell), speeding along until she gets a flat tire. With no help available, she sets off on foot, burdened with what look like the assorted fripperies of a shopping expedition. There can’t be any doubt that this chic and carefully coiffed lady is very much an outsider in the primal landscape, a refugee from 5th Avenue cast adrift in the dust and heat of the southwest. Then out of that shimmering haze comes a jeep carrying two men – miner Jonathan Dartland (Jeff Chandler) and doctor Hugh Slater (Dan Duryea) – and we’re off. Amanda is clearly taken with Dartland and he’s at least interested in her.  What follows is a love story but it’s not a smooth one, and I think it’s questionable in the end what all of the protagonists are in love with. In fact, despite the relatively neat conclusion, those questions are only partly answered and I feel there’s a suggestion that they will rear their heads again.

As far as I can see, the characters are being pulled in different directions partly by their disparate backgrounds and partly by their status as outsiders. Beginning with Dartland, or Dart as everyone refers to him. We learn very early on that he is half Apache, with a mother who has returned to the reservation and wholly integrated herself back into tribal life after the death of her husband. He is forced to endure some bigoted and prejudiced attitudes – including one thoughtless gaffe on the part of Amanda before she learns about his heritage – but tends to brush them aside. He insists it means nothing to him but a couple of understated moments call this into question – the brief flash of hurt in his eyes when Amanda makes that crack about Indians, and then later the diffidence and self-consciousness he displays when entering the club for their first date, not to mention the haste with which he beats his retreat.

For all Dart’s claims of not being affected by his background, he’s very much aware that he is outside looking in. And he cannot fully break with his past; he avoids talking about his mother’s people, keeps his memories quite literally locked away and reacts with petulant sensitivity to their discovery. Nevertheless, the tone of his relationships, especially with Amanda is dictated by his upbringing, his instinctive prioritizing of self-reliance as well as his resorting to the physical as opposed to the emotional act of love when confronted with conflict. As I mentioned  above, I’m unsure whether he’s confident what he’s in love with – his wife or his ambition, and that siren song of kith and kin holds a powerful attraction.

What of Amanda? Is she any less an outsider? A socialite on vacation drawn to something attractive, and she does refer to Dart time and again as pretty in a neat subversion of traditional objectification. She labors hard to adapt to the harsh conditions of the mining town and also has to deal with the whispers of her own past tempting her to throw it all up in favor of the ease and plenty she was accustomed to. Again, does she really know what she wants – the rugged ideal of her imagination or the the reserved figure of reality?

You can always tell a script has depth when it adds meat to the bones of the supporting characters ; this one is from the pen of Ketti Frings, who had already written a few very good films noir as well as another Joseph Pevney / Jeff Chandler picture Because of You, and I’m keen to track that one down now. Dan Duryea’s boozy doctor could have been a mere caricature, a sidekick with a bottle who bumbles in the background. However, the character isn’t written with such broad strokes, there are layers present which are only gradually uncovered. He doesn’t truly belong either, another blow in from another world, a drunk as a result of personal trauma and casting around for a means to escape his circumstances. Duryea excelled at playing heels and it’s therefore not much of a surprise when his cunning and manipulative side rises to the surface. The one who arguably suffers this most, albeit with almost superhuman stoicism, is his nurse/lover played by Mara Corday. Like Dart, she is half Apache yet the barriers separating her from white society are even more entrenched. There’s something both outrageous and touching about her quiet patience and devotion to a man who habitually neglects her to the point of naked disrespect. Then there’s that wedding scene, where she is looking in in every sense, relegated to a place outside in the company of hookers and other undesirables. She is in a very real way a peripheral figure and is assigned only a limited amount of screen time, but her presence and its effect on the viewer is significant. Somehow, the casual acceptance (by herself as well as by the other characters, and perhaps even more so on her own part) of her regular social exclusion and the flippant exploitation of her affections do as much to highlight prejudice as some of the more direct and overt references involving  Dart.

I’ve watched and featured a number of Joseph Pevney movies this year and Foxfire is probably the most enjoyable one so far. I appreciated the understated way the drama unfolds and this is particularly true of the key scenes. The film has that appealing look that is so characteristic of Universal-International productions and William Daniels’ Technicolor cinematography honestly is quite breathtaking at times. The setting matters too, it feels entirely appropriate in this case that everything revolves around a mining settlement in the Arizona desert. The location offers a tangible link to the classic western and then there is that sense of the ephemeral, of a place hastily built amid a permanent wasteland – Chandler’s character dreams of making it a lasting settlement but there’s that nagging doubt again, as in his personal affairs, over how sure the foundations will be. Somehow the raw purity of the scorched backdrop offers a contrast to the transitory desires, ambitions, jealousies and angst of this group of people, none of whom appear to genuinely belong.

As for availability, there is a Blu-ray which has been released in the US and I understand it offers a fine presentation of the movie. Sadly, I’m Region B only when it comes to Blu-ray so I had to find other options. There has been a DVD release in Italy that is hard to fault as far as the picture quality is concerned. It might be standard definition but the 2.00:1 widescreen image is sharp as a pin, clean and colorful. Sure there are better melodramas to be found and the theme here may not have the kind of universal resonance that typically adds greatness. Nevertheless, this is a good movie, and it mostly worked for me, raising a number of issues I could relate to as well as providing an hour and a half of polished, solid entertainment. My recommendation is that anyone able to access this title should check it out.