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From the time John J. Macreedy steps off the train in Black Rock, he feels a chill from the local residents. The town is only a speck on the map and few if any strangers ever come to the place. Macreedy himself is tight-lipped about the purpose of his trip and he finds that the hotel refuses him a room, the local garage refuses to rent him a car and the sheriff is a useless drunkard. It's apparent that the locals have something to hide but when he finally tells them that he is there to speak to a Japanese-American farmer named Kamoko, he touches a nerve so sensitive that he will spend the next 24 hours fighting for his life. Written by
The script called for Macreedy to light matches one-handed. Spencer Tracy had difficulty with this and convinced director John Sturges to let him use a Zippo lighter, as every veteran he ever met had one. See more »
As the train approaches the town, the horn blows twice, which is the signal for starting up. The mandatory signal for a grade crossing (long, long, short, long) is never blown, although one clearly exists. When the train departs, the conductor makes a confused hand signal to the engineer resembling the horizontal motion that means "stop" rather than the vertical motion that means "go". The engineer never responds with the "long, long" starting signal. See more »
Doc T.R. Velie Jr.:
I was just wondering what all you people are worrying about... not that I have the slightest idea. I hold no truck with silence. I've got nothing to hide. It's just that you worry about the stranger only if you look at him from a certain aspect - from my perspective, I look upon him with the innocence of a fresh-laid egg.
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Bad Day at Black Rock turned out to be the final film that Spencer Tracy did on his MGM contract. The following year he was fired off the set of Tribute to a Bad Man and left MGM abruptly. Some reward for an actor who brought so much prestige to that studio.
Tracy gets off a train at a hole in the wall, whistlestop, speedtrap of a town called Black Rock located somewhere in the Mojave desert. He's looking for a Japanese farmer named Komoko who seems to have vanished. And the townspeople are downright unfriendly to the stranger.
It gradually dawns on Tracy that by probing about Komoko's whereabouts, he's stepped in one big festering pile and he's put himself in danger. What he does about it is the rest of the film.
John Sturges keeps the tension going here worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock film. In fact if Hitchcock had ever decided to do a western and was presented with Bad Day at Black Rock, I doubt he could do it any better. Certain arty Hitchcock touches are missing, but the suspense is there. Sturges was in fact nominated for Best Director.
As was Tracy nominated for Best Actor. He lost ironically to one of his fellow cast members Ernest Borgnine who copped the big prize for Marty. But in fact any one of the small cast could have been nominated. I'm not sure why chief villain Robert Ryan wasn't.
A fews years later John Sturges directed another film The Law and Jake Wade about Robert Taylor being held prisoner by Richard Widmark and his gang. There was a lot of suspense there as well, similar to Bad Day at Black Rock, as to whether Taylor would escape his predicament.
For a feature film in 1955 it is a rather short one, less than 90 minutes. But as Tracy said in another film, what there is is cherce.
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