George Sherman's western deserves recognition for being one of the only movies to feature the legendary Lola Montez as a central character - in fact, the canonical Max Ophüls biopic did not appear for another seven years. This movie, an 80-minute Technicolor genre piece of modest means, name-checks her Bavarian phase (which Ophüls would depict memorably, to say the least) twice, but it's really all just scaffolding to promote the legendarily gorgeous, and legendarily leggy, Yvonne De Carlo: if not for the expository dialogue regarding how she got six figures' worth of diamonds to tote through the wild west, her role functions purely for spectacle and scripted love interest. Yes, it's true, this B-western does not have the contemplative aspect, or the spellbinding mise-en-scene, that helped Ophüls's film to be regarded as an all-time masterpiece.
Then again, few films do. What's worth considering is what, if anything, distinguishes Black Bart from its mere description: a rather light, anti-hero western with a significant share of its running time devoted to a showgirl/"it" girl/A-list glamour girl. Sherman's style is clean and casual, depicting action sequences from a medium-wide perspective. Black Bart's heists are cut against news coverage, cleverly allowing two years to pass in a few seconds' worth of montage - the left-to-right kind, not the spinning-front-page kind. Character actor Percy Kilbride steals a great deal of the picture with a few, short scenes:
Yes, I believe he has just the one shirt for the entire picture.
Almost at the halfway point, the movie serves its big number, a highly sexualized cabaret performance by Ms. Montez. A few words about build-up, which is achieved to singular effect by Sherman. You will, I hope, agree that when a film is 80 minutes long, and made in the short-sweet-and-to-the-point idiom of Hollywood's more budget-conscious production front, that when you are 15 minutes in, and the film has established itself as a routine (if pleasant) genre picture, with dependable character types and all the usual trimmings, that you have a pretty good idea how the remaining 65 minutes are going to go. Black Bart gets the viewer going along this path, and then introduces a new, highly disruptive element. After observing the discussion between a couple of Wells Fargo men as they consider the ongoing crisis of an outlaw who is holding their corporation hostage with his relentless stagecoach heists, the sharp, staccatto pounding of nails is heard as, right in their midst, a showman is just putting the finishing touches on a one-sheet advertising the imminent arrival of the world-renowned exotic dancer, Lola Montez.
|"I'm not interested in the woman you're advertising. I'm interested in those diamonds."|