DVD Review: “Black Patch” Is A Sterling Western From Warner Archive

Just to break things up a bit review wise, I won’t be doing a traditional review of the Warner Archive title Black PatchSince there’s so many things to love about this movie, I’ll start with a plot summary and then list 5 reasons why you, dear reader, should check out Black PatchThis is my first stab at the approach, so here goes:

Black Patch centers on Marshal Clay Morgan (George Montgomery) a one eyed lawman and Civil War veteran whose good friend Hank (Leo Gordon) travels to Santa Rita, New Mexico. Joining Hank is his wife Helen (Maverick’s Diane Brewster), aka Clay’s ex-flame. Tom Pittman is Flytrap, a young quick draw who idolizes Clay, and Sebastian Cabot is Frenchy, the town’s unapologetically corrupt saloon owner.

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Here’s my 5 Reasons To Love Black Patch:

  1. Black Patch subverts the oftentimes predictable Western genre. 
Black Patch - Warner Archive Collection
Black Patch – Warner Archive Collection

The movie’s poster may be ominous beyond measure, and George Montgomery looks definitely intimidating with the patch, but the movie isn’t your average gunslinger shoot ’em up.

Instead, director Allen H. Miner and screenwriter Leo Gordon opt for a sobering character study of a man who’s lost all hope in the world. Clay (Montgomery) refuses to fight for his ex-lover when the chips are down and is essentially nonchalant when he’s initially accused of murder. Even during a climactic showdown, Clay doesn’t go the traditional lawman route.

This isn’t your average John Wayne/John Ford or Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone cowboy flick, as Black Patch delves into the psychology (and pathology) behind the Western while foregoing all those bullets. Some fans may abhor the lack of gunfire and action that the movie poster suggests, but I was more than happy with the turn of events.

2. Leo Gordon is a scene stealer and a talented scribe.
Leo Gordon, Diane Brewster, George Montgomery in "Black Patch" - Warner Archive Collection
Leo Gordon, Diane Brewster, George Montgomery in “Black Patch” – Warner Archive Collection

George Montgomery may have the “black patch,” but as Clay Morgan’s best friend, Leo Gordon fills the frame with his imposing figure as Hank Danner. Still insecure over his wife’s continued affections for Clay, Hank eventually ends up on the wrong side of the law just to make one big cash score. Danner isn’t a two dimensional, bloodthirsty villain, nor does he have a score to settle with Clay. Instead, Danner simply wants to get out of town with a little cash and his emotionally distant wife in tow.  

Credit goes to Leo Gordon, who also penned the Black Patch screenplay for infusing the main characters with  conflicting motivations and unpredictable behavior. As viewers, we expect some kind of showdown between Clay and Hank, or that Gordon would try to exploit the presumed love triangle by penning some potboiler action sequence involving the three.

Instead, Gordon wanted  to create an entirely different kind of story, and whether it’s the screenplay or his scene stealing work, he’s a huge reason why Black Patch is a solid (and woefully overlooked) Western.

****To check out more info on Leo Gordon, go to the actor/writer’s official Facebook page, which is run by his daughter Tara Gordon. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/Leo-Gordon-163870180296567/timeline/

Black Patch - Warner Archive Collection
Black Patch – Warner Archive Collection
3. This is Jerry Goldsmith’s First Movie Score!

Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown, The Twilight Zone, The Omen, L.A. Confidential), one of Hollywood’s most revered composers, makes his feature film scoring debut. Since Black Patch is an ambitious character study (it really is a “brooding” Western), Goldsmith’s subtle and effective score is in full effect during the movie’s more somber moments. Strains of the raw emotion that punctuated his compositions for The Twilight Zone are subtly echoed in Black Patch.

Tom Pittman in "Black Patch"
Tom Pittman in “Black Patch”
4. Tom Pittman Was A Gone Too Soon Talent

Another masterstroke from writer Leo Gordon comes during the last third of Black Patch, which mainly focuses on Flytrap’s (Tom Pittman) fall from grace. After believing Clay Morgan’s a back stabbing murderer, Flytrap makes a series of poor decisions, which includes being seduced by Frenchy (Sebastian Cabot), the town’s deadliest villain, and falling for Clay’s ex-girlfriend (Diane Brewster, who’s also believable as the heartbroken woman).

The surprising shift in the storyline mainly works thanks to Pittman’s arresting performance (the young man obviously drew from such introspective greats as James Dean and Montgomery Clift). Initially, Flytrap is seen as a bumbling, hero-worshiping sycophant, but eventually he grows into an impetuous (and ultimately) dangerous individual. Though Montgomery is the technical “lead” in the film,  Pittman anchors most of the film’s third act.

Pittman’s tragically short-lived and promising career included a role in the 1959 feature Verboten!, directed by Samuel Fuller.  “He had an unaffected quality I liked and a calmness that only good actors have, even if they are boiling with emotion inside,” wrote Fuller in his autobiography A Third Face.

Films such as Black Patch and Verboten! signaled a highly promising acting career, but unfortunately Pittman’s died in a 1958 car accident, as he and his sports car were discovered in a Benedict Canyon, Ca. ravine,

George Montgomery in "Black Patch"
George Montgomery in “Black Patch”
5. George Montgomery Takes A Movie Gamble And Wins

It didn’t surprise me to read that George Montgomery, known for starring in his share of Westerns (The Pathfinder, TV’s Cimarron City), also ran a cabinet shop for over 40 years and had a passion for furniture making and sculpting. Though he’d be playing a flawed lawman whose best days are likely behind him, Montgomery was probably enthused with the finely detailed and intricate scope of Black Patch and simply went for it.

Other lead actors of his generation would probably demand their character pistol whip or blast their respective enemies to submission, but Clay Morgan is as indecisive as the day is long, fraught with demons he can’t erase. With a town filled with corruption, a good friend turned criminal, and a woman who still loves him, Clay continues to run in circles. Montgomery took a big risk in playing such an ineffectual hero, and he does a bang-up job in the process.

*****Black Patch is a MOD (Manufactured on Demand Title) from the Warner Archive Collection. To order, go to WBShop.com.

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