Black Gold (1962)
“The Epic Emotions and Encounters That Spawned The Deadliest Oil Empire of All!”
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Cast: Philip Carey, Diane McBain, James Best
Synopsis: Two friends join together to strike oil during the Oklahoma oil boom of the 1920s, and wind up fighting over the same oil wells and the same girl.
Leslie H. Martinson’s Black Gold bears all the hallmarks of a movie which started off with much grander ambitions but failed to win any interest. The subject of the search for oil lends itself to epic treatments, and it’s not difficult to picture John Wayne in the role taken by the bland second-string leading man Philip Carey (The Great Sioux Massacre), who looks considerably older than his thirty-seven years. It was produced by Warners as a B-movie with cursory attention paid to period detail, and flat direction that belies helmer Leslie H. Martinson’s TV roots.
Carey plays pilot and oil man Frank McCandless, who’s employed by ambitious businessman Chick Carrington (Claude Akins) to cheat Ann Evans (Diane McBain) out of what he suspects might be a lucrative oil well. When McCandless has a change of heart after falling for Ann, Carrington takes revenge by revealing to her that McCandless was responsible for her father’s death. Meanwhile, Carrington has plans to move into politics, and in order to build a respectable façade he identifies showgirl Julie (Fay Spain) as the ideal wife, even though she’s the beau of McCandless’s sidekick, Jericho (James Best, who’s probably best known for his stint as Roscoe P. Coltrane in the 1970s Dukes of Hazzard TV show).
The closest Black Gold comes to any kind of atmosphere is in the saloon scenes in which an old guy with a shotgun sits in a cage hanging from the ceiling in order to discourage any violent shenanigans below. It has a couple of well-staged fight scenes, and Akins and Spain shine in supporting roles, but otherwise, Black Gold is a movie that repeatedly shows signs of how good it could have been had it received the right treatment without ever coming remotely close to achieving that quality. It also makes the fatal mistake of devoting far too much time to the romance between Jericho and Julie, so that McCandless virtually becomes a supporting character for much of the time. Jericho is one of those losers who allows himself to be sucked into a rigged poker game, and who believes in the ridiculous oil-finding contraption invented by a character called Doc (Dub Taylor – Bonnie and Clyde, The Getaway) so why screenwriters Bob and Wanda Duncan think we would be more interested in him than the more conventionally heroic figure of McCandless is a mystery. Diane McBain, an actress who always seemed to be so much better than the roles she won, is also criminally under-used.