Saturday, June 8, 2013

#1,027. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Directed By: John Sturges

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis

Tag line: "They're going to kill you...with no hard feelings!"

Trivia: Don Siegel called the screenplay for this movie the best one he had ever read (to that point) and lobbied unsuccessfully to direct the film

Throughout his career, Spencer Tracy played everything from sympathetic fathers (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and kind-hearted priests (Boys Town) to well-respected lawyers (Inherit the Wind) and judges (Judgment at Nuremberg). He even appeared - along with Katherine Hepburn - in a series of romantic comedies (Adam’s Rib, Woman of the Year) that are today regarded as classics of the genre. 

But as he showed us in director John Sturges’ 1955 crime / western Bad Day at Black Rock, ‘ole Spence could also kick ass when he needed to!

Tracy is John J. Macreedy, a WWII vet who lost the use of his left arm during the war. Intending to visit the father of an old army buddy, he takes a train to the small Arizona town of Black Rock. But from the moment he arrives there, it’s clear the locals are none too happy to have him around. 

Treated with hostility everywhere he goes, Macreedy seeks the help of the town’s sheriff (Dean Jagger), only to discover that, in Black Rock, the law is laid down by a man named Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), who, along with everyone else in this tiny desert community, is hiding a secret so terrible he's willing to kill to protect it.

Even with one arm, Tracy’s Macreedy is a force to be reckoned with, a well-trained soldier who is perfectly capable of defending himself in any situation. And it’s a good thing too, because in Black Rock, he’s up against some tough hombres, including Hector (Lee Marvin) and Coley (Ernest Borgnine), two of Reno’s goons who make the mistake of thinking their new “guest” is a pushover. Coley learns his lesson the hard way when Macreedy tosses him from one end of the local saloon to the other. With an air of confidence that never wavers, Tracy gives the impression that his character, regardless of his handicap, is always in control.

A simmering, suspenseful mystery that plays out under the hot desert sun (shot on-location in California and Arizona's Mohave Desert, the setting enhances the isolation that Macreedy feels throughout the film.  He is literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by enemies on all sides), Bad Day at Black Rock is an underrated crime thriller, and features a main character who is a long way removed from your typical cinematic hero.


Along These Lines ... said...

This is a great film. And Borgnine could be such a despicable fellow.

Tommy Ross said...

Just ordered the dvd on Amazon, looks like a good one! Thanks for the reco.

James Robert Smith said...

"Bad Day" is one of those films that is surprising in its creeping power. It sneaks up on you. It doesn't matter that Spencer Tracy was probably too old for the part. But just as when Jimmy Stuart was really too old to play the part of Ransom Stoddard in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, it just doesn't matter.

Bad Day at Black Rock is one of those rare film that I have to watch when I accidentally catch it on TV because it's just so well done. Flawless? No. But its strengths totally overpower its weaknesses.