A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
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
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 »
Spencer Tracy did not get an academy award for this film but he was compensated with a more important award--the Cannes Film festival award. It is always interesting that Europe recognizes the better Hollywood works than the Academy ("Thin Red Line" got the top award in Berlin, "Scarecrow" in Cannes--two geat American films ignored at the Oscar ceremonies).
I read a review of the film on IMDB pointing out the flaws in the script. They are all correct, if we go by rational thinking. But the merits of this film are the superb editing, the beautiful cinemascope photography and the arresting performances. Every time I see this film I am reminded of Spielberg's little known film "Duel" that had similar thrilling tension packed into less than 24 hours of screen time--a film I admire much more as good cinema than the recent box office outputs of Spielberg.
Compare this film with Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven." Sturges like King Vidor, seemed to pick up stories to film that looked at the oppressed and tried to present a world that could be better. "The Magnificent Seven," like this film, had a predominantly male cast. It appealed to most viewers. And some could see a social and even a political layer beneath these films.
What I find most appealing is the the ability of Sturges, Vidor, and the early unsung Spielberg's ability to use cinema to combine thrills, human values and craft in say 81 minutes as in this film. Spencer Tracy is not to be admired for the way he delivers his lines, but his body movements which remind you of majestic caged animal that can be deadly if provoked. Sturges brings to the fore evil in different ways--the dead buck strapped on the front of a vehicle, menace on empty roads by big vehicles (used in "Duel" to great effect), evil women when you expect them to be good, laws used in illegal ways (the hotel registration scene), etc. Sergio Leone made similar films in Europe--the famous spaghetti westerns--with laconic dialogues and emphasis on body movements and photography
In spite of its flaws, it is a film Hollywood can be proud of. I only hope TV reruns show the film in its original cinemascope grandeur, which grabbed me the first time I saw it decades ago.
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