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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) - Plot Summary Poster

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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.

  • When the streamliner stops at Black Rock for the first time in four years, the mysterious one-armed stranger John J. Macreedy disembarks and asks how to reach Adobe Flat to meet the Japanese-American farmer Kamoko. He is not allowed to check-in the hotel and he is not able to rent a car. Soon he notes that the sheriff is a drunkard and the resident Reno Smith rules the place with his henchmen Hector David and Coley Trimble. Further he feels that the inhabitants are hiding something. When he finally succeeds to rent a jeep from Liz Wirth, he drives to Adobe Flat and finds the farmhouse burned to the ground. He immediately concludes what might have happened to Kamoko and tries to communicate with the state police, but he discovers that communication is controlled by Smith. Further, the veterinarian Doc Velie tells that his life is in danger and unsuccessfully tries to help him to escape. Who is John J. Macreedy and what will happen to him?

  • John J. Macreedy doesn't know it, but when he steps off the train at the jerkwater town of Black Rock, he will soon find himself the object of fear, hatred, and even a murder plot! The altruistic Macreedy came to Black Rock to hand over a posthumous military award to a local man whose son had died gallantly in the Second World War. What Macreedy couldn't know when he stepped off of that train was that the town had a shameful secret, one that must be kept at all costs.

  • It's 1945, a couple of weeks after the official end of the war. For the first time in four years, the streamliner stops in the small American western desert town of Black Rock, and off the train steps John J. Macreedy. Wearing a suit, he's a middle aged man with a lame left arm who has never been to Black Rock. Without even knowing who he is or what his story is, the townsfolk are suspicious of Macreedy. They learn that he is only in town for 24 hours when the streamliner will pick him up the next day to take him to Los Angeles, where he will "restart" his life. His trip to Black Rock is to speak to a Japanese-American farmer named Komoko who supposedly lives in Adobe Flat. No one in town is willing to help Macreedy locate Komoko. As Macreedy is on his search to find Komoko, he comes to the realization that Reno Smith is the town's leader in whatever they are hiding. Everyone else in town is either in cahoots with Smith, or is unwilling to help for fear of reprisal from Smith and his associates. Those unwilling to help include such influential people as the town's sheriff, the switchboard operator and the telegraph operator. As those in cahoots with Smith try to provoke Macreedy, he also realizes that they are trying to have a reason to kill him. Regardless, Macreedy knows that without help, he will be dead before morning comes as he has no access to either a vehicle or means of communication to the outside world. When he finds out the secret the town is keeping, Macreedy does whatever he needs to save his life and in the process save the town from the scourge that has hung over it for four years.

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  • Shortly after the attack on the Pearl Harbor, the unconditional surrender of Japan, and the resultant hatred towards Japanese-Americans, one-armed John J. Macreedy alights at Black Rock from a train in order to give a medal to the last known relative, Komoko, of a deceased Japanese-American army officer, Joe. His attempts to do so will pit him against the entire town - including the Sheriff himself - that is intent on covering up a dark secret; attempts will be made to run him off the road while driving; he will be threatened, and the telephone operator will refuse to connect him to the State Police; the Railway Station's employee will not dispatch a telegram; while the local Mortician will warn him that he should prepare for his death by nightfall.

  • A one-armed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The time is 1945, just after the end of World War II. The great railroad train Streamliner stops at the town of Black Rock Arizona. The train discharges a single passenger with only one arm named John J. Macreedy.The conductor comments that this is the first time in four years that the train has stopped there. Macreedy replies that he is only staying for one day, and the conductor comments that "in a place like this a day can be a lifetime." The train departs. Macreedy is confronted by the stationmaster who complains that he had not been informed that the Streamliner was stopping, to which Macreedy replies "Maybe they didn't think it was important." Macreedy asks the stationmaster if he can get a cab to Adobe Flat. The stationmaster replies "no cab." Macreedy then asks if the hotel is open, and the stationmaster nods. Macreedy walks into town.

    When the townsfolk learn that Macreedy wants to visit nearby Adobe Flat, they react with extreme suspicion and hostility. Pete Wirth, the hotel keeper, tries using a bogus excuse about war restrictions to deny renting a room even though it is obvious the hotel has vacancies. After persistence, Macreedy rents a room, only to be harassed by a cowboy named Hector for no apparent reason. Macreedy's attempts to rent a car create further hostility, prompting another local, Reno Smith, to have a private detective he knows in Los Angeles check out Macreedy's background. Macreedy then visits the sheriff's office only to find that the sheriff, Tim Horn, is an ineffectual drunken sot. Macreedy mentions that he is trying to locate a farmer named Kumoko at Adobe Flat and Horn becomes as hostile as the rest of town. Smith then accosts Macreedy feigning friendliness. Macreedy asks about Kumoko, and Smith tells him that Kumoko was sent to an internment camp after the start of the war. Pete's sister Liz drives up in her jeep and rents it to Macreedy, who drives off to Adobe Flat. Despite Liz's assurance that Macreedy will find nothing and Horn's feeble attempts to assert his authority, Smith, after hearing from the private eye that there are no records on Macreedy, orders another local, Coley Trimble, to get rid of Macreedy, despite protests from Pete and the town doctor, Doc Velie.

    At Adobe Flat, Macreedy finds only a burned out house, a deep well and wildflowers growing in the dirt. Returning to town, Trimble rams Macreedy off the road, then harasses him for being a "road hog." Macreedy decides to leave but is unable to get transportation to the next town and finds that the train will not come until the next morning. After enduring comments of racial bigotry relating to Kumoko, Macreedy is convinced that Smith is trying to kill him and attempts to telephone the police, but Pete will not help him. The doc offers Macreedy his hearse for escape, but it has been tampered with and will not start.

    After trying to telegraph the police, Macreedy visits the café, where Coley goads him with more bigoted slurs. Macreedy downs Coley with judo, then accuses Smith of murdering Kumoko; he is convinced that the wildflowers hide something buried at Adobe Flat. Macreedy reveals that Kumoko's son Joe died as a result of saving his life in Italy during the war, earning a medal that Macreedy is bringing to his father. Doc and Pete then confess that Kumoko leased Adobe Flat from Smith under false pretenses of available water. Kumoko, despite being cheated, dug the deep well, enraging Smith. Smith's anger intensified after he was turned down by the Marines; after getting drunk he decided to "scare the Jap" along with Coley, Pete, Hector and Sam, the café owner. The incident got out of hand and Kumoko was killed.

    Pete then calls Liz and asks her help in getting Macreedy out of town. Liz drives him out of town into the hands of Smith. Smith shoots Liz to silence her, then turns the rifle on Macreedy. Macreedy creates a Molotov cocktail with jeep gas, his necktie and a glass bottle. He hurls the bottle at Smith, catching him on fire. Returning to town with Smith, Macreedy finds the other four witnesses locked up in a cell. The next morning, the police escort the prisoners away as the Streamliner pulls in. Macreedy, after hearing pleas from Doc, gives him the medal awarded to Kumoko's son Joe. The conductor comments that the excitement must be the reason that the train stopped here for the first time in four years. Macreedy comments "second," then boards the train.

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