the picture takes place a couple of months after the end of World War II in the
year 1945, Bad Day at Black Rock is
really a western. The setting is a desert town that’s barely a whistle stop for
a train that hasn’t halted there in four years; the main street looks as if
it’s right out of Dodge City, and the
opening credits are designed in big, colorful, bold words that spread across
the wide CinemaScope screen. Even director John Sturges is primarily known for
his many westerns.
Guy Spencer Tracy rides into town—on that train—and is met with inexplicable
hostility from everyone he meets. All he wants is to find a guy named Komoko—a
Japanese farmer who supposedly lives just out of town. Most of the residents
seem afraid to help Tracy. The ones who aren’t scared are bullies who attempt
to intimidate Tracy into leaving town. It doesn’t take long for Tracy to figure
out that Black Rock is run by Bad Guy Robert Ryan. Even the alcoholic sheriff
(Dean Jagger) is in Ryan’s pocket, as well as the young female mechanic (Anne
Francis), the telegraph operator (Russell Collins), and the hotel clerk (John
Ericson). Ryan has a couple of bruisers (Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin) who do
most of the threatening. The only civilian seemingly willing to extend an ounce
of courtesy to the stranger is the undertaker (Walter Brennan).
why is Tracy so unwelcome? Why is Black Rock so paranoid? What secret in its
past are the citizens obviously protecting? Tracy—not one to back down
easily—decides to try and get the answers before the gang puts him in the
are classic western trappings. It’s High
Noon, only Tracy has come to town
to find everyone against him, rather than the other way around. Ryan is the
archetypal greedy, mean cattle baron, and Marvin is his six-shooter-slinging
henchman. The only difference is that everyone in Black Rock gets around in a car
instead of on a horse.
film historian Dana Polan states in the accompanying audio commentary, Bad Day is a B-movie disguised as a
prestige picture. The studio is MGM. The CinemaScope/color photography is
impressive. The star is Spencer Tracy, adding “respectability” to the film.
And, in the end, it’s a “problem picture,” in that the movie is about racism. All
that spells “importance.”
of that really matters, for Bad Day at
Black Rock is simply solid entertainment. It is suspenseful, full of
tension, has action—a car chase, hand-to-hand combat, a shootout—and admirable
performances. Tracy was nominated for an Oscar Best Actor. Sturges was
nominated for Director, and the adapted screenplay by Don McGuire and Millard
Kaufman received a nod.
Warner Archive Collection release presents a 1080p High Definition transfer
with DTS-HD Master Audio.
include the aforementioned commentary and the theatrical trailer.
a few-frills package, but Bad Day at
Black Rock is a no-frills thriller that packs a raw and gritty punch.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE