Bad Day at Black Rock Film Details
Overview: A one-armed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary.
Tagline: Just the way it happened!
Review: MGM’s glitzy 1955 thriller BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is still one of the most popular movies of the fifties. Produced for the studio by Dore Schary it was nicely written for the screen by Millard Kaufman and came from a story called “Bad Time At Hondo” by Howard Brisken. It is the type of movie that was made in the forties in black & white and would have been regarded as a typical classic noir. But here, filmed in Cinemascope and colour by William C. Mellor, it regretfully loses a lot of the noir atmosphere while thankfully hanging on to the suspense and excitement inherent in those much cherished movies of long ago. Briskly directed by John Sturges the fine cast is headed by Spencer Tracy. This was something of a departure for the actor. He hadn’t really appeared in this kind of picture before. It was more like something his friend James Cagney would do with little difficulty. In fact Cagney was originally slated to do the movie but Tracy – while filming a western “Tribute To A Badman” – fell out with its director Robert Wise and walked off the set and was replaced by Cagney at very short notice. Since Tracy now owed MGM a picture and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK was without a lead and a start-up date imminent he reluctantly took up the assignment. But I’m not totally convinced Tracy was wholly right for the part. He was 54 years old when he made it but with his silver hair he could look ten years older. That said he does a fair enough job and it even earned him an Oscar nomination. But I still would have loved to see what sort of a job Cagney would have made of it. It is 1946 and the war has ended in Europe. Tracy plays John J. Macreedy who arrives by train in the tiny desert hamlet of Black Rock (“It’s the first time the Streamline has stopped here in four years” declares Telegraph Agent Russell Collins). He is here to present Komoko, a Japanese American farmer, with a medal that was posthumously awarded to his son for bravery during action in Italy. But Macreedy is greeted in the town with disdain and silence. The town is hiding a crucial secret and before long he learns that Komoko is dead and had died under suspicious circumstances. As he gets nearer and nearer to what exactly happened attempts are made on his life (an exciting desert car chase is particularly effective) and with the help of the kindly local doctor (Walter Brennan) and a remorseful hotelier (John Ericson) he must now endeavour to get out of Black Rock one way or another. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is an entertaining thriller but it’s not without its faults. Most glaring is the music score by Andre Previn. Firstly it is much too loud! Almost every closing line of a scene is accompanied by screaming, and I mean screaming, descending string passages that have you diving for the volume control of your TV. Previn doesn’t do,or never did, subtle or sensitive. He over emphasizes, and very loudly, every would be suspenseful moment in the picture. Even Max Steiner (a composer who was often castigated for his “wall to wall” and emphatic style of scoring and one whose work Previn, on more than one occasion, publicly and disparagingly discredited) would never be so blatant. It is interesting to note here that unlike the estimable Steiner not one of Previn’s film scores is worth remembering! Also a problem with the movie is the inordinate lack of character development. We never learn anything about the individuals that make up the sparse population of the town. For instance all we know about shady Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) is that he owns a ranch outside of town but is he married or has he a family or who works for him or what? The same goes for the other men in the town ie. Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Dean Jagger,John Ericson, Walter Brennan, Walter Sande, you never see any of the women or the families in their lives. In fact, apart from barely getting a fleeting glimpse of a couple of women in the final scene watching the police arresting the baddies, throughout the entire picture you will never see a woman crossing the street, eating in the local diner, coming or going through the hotel, doing a bit of shopping or anything else that female extras are hired to do in movies. The only female in the cast is Anne Francis who has a small role as a girl who runs the local garage but we don’t know if she owns it or if there is a man in her life or what. I found this whole female aspect of the film under written, very strange and somewhat off-putting. Nevertheless, size-able and annoying quibbles apart there is still much enjoyment to be had from BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK thanks to the handsome mounting of the movie and some nice ensemble playing from a distinguished cast.
Duration: 81 min
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Western
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