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 'incorrect' horn-signals heard as the locomotive arrives and leaves Black Rock may well have resulted from the usual studio post-production "dubbing" of such sound-effects onto the picture's sound-track, as would the gear-change sounds made by McCreedy's jeep as he's shown driving with his one good arm on the wheel (thus being unable to reach the gear-shift handle). See more »
At the climax of the film, Macreedy is attempting to use his tie as the 'fuse' for a fire-bomb. Though his 'dead' arm remains stuffed in his jacket pocket, he clearly uses its hand when tearing the tie. See more »
To receive an 'A' (PG) certificate in 1955 the UK cinema version was subject to heavy BBFC cuts. These included Macreedy striking Hector with the brass fire hose nozzle and the climactic shots of Reno on fire. Later TV showings and video releases were fully uncut. See more »
Produced by Dore Schary out of MGM, Bad Day at Black Rock is directed by John Sturges and stars Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin. It's adapted by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman from the story "Bad Day at Hondo" written by Howard Breslin. It's shot on location in CinemaScope and Eastman Color at Lone Pine, Death Valley & Alabama Hills in California, with William C. Mellor on photography and André Previn scoring the music.
A classy production that combines elements of Westerns and film noir, Bad Day at Black Rock deals with racism and all the hate and bully tactics that come with such a vile subject. It tells the story of a mysterious one armed stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), who arrives at a tiny isolated town in a desert of the Southwest United States in search of a Japanese-American man. From the moment he arrives he is met with hostility and mistrust. Over the course of the day Macreedy picks apart the town to uncover the secret that the towns folk had hoped had gone away forever.
From the opening sequence of a bright red train rushing towards us, it's evident that we are in the modern day West. It's just after World War II and the horse trails of the old West are now frequented by jeeps and cars. Yet the hallmarks of the old West exists and thrives because of the inhabitants of Black Rock. An ignorant group of people consisting of bullies, drunks and the head in the sand weak willed type. Yet even though the film is set mostly in the blazing sun, in a barren one horse Western town that time forgot, the film exudes a film noir sensibility. Dark secrets from the past weigh heavy on the shoulders of the towns' big players - and Tracy's High Noon like situation is moodily paced by the wily Sturges. In fact, that a film with so little "gun play" action can be so tense is actually no mean feat, with him yet again directing an ensemble cast to great effect.
Tracy is at his best when he is as he is here, playing subdued. Here he is a thinking man's protagonist, calm and reflective in the face of constant hostility. That he is facing an impressive line up of heavies really brings home just how thoughtful a performance Tracy gives in the piece. Robert Ryan does yet another fine turn as a complicated villain whose rage is bubbling away under the surface. Borgnine and Marvin are memorably vile as his right hand thugs, Dean Jagger as the drunken cowardly sheriff manages to pang the heart and Walter Brennan is his usual solid scene influencing self. Anne Francis adds the glamour but really - and sadly - it's a nondescript role that the film could easily have survived without.
Clocking in at just 81 minutes the film never outstays its welcome. It looks great on home format issue, and for those interested in commentary tracks, this one comes with a very good one from Dana Polan. Anyone who has not seen this film should try and seek it out. It was considered controversial back on release but now can be viewed as a smart message movie about racial tolerance. Tight, taut and expertly directed and acted, Bad Day At Black Rock is an important film from the 50s that still rings the bells loudly even today. 8/10
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