Bad Day at Black Rock
Release Year: 1955
Director: John Sturges
Screenwriter(s): Don McGuire, Millard Kaufman, Howard Breslin (short story)
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine
Rating: Cannes Film Festival Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Nominated for Palme d’Or, Nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #24, week 47 2014
A mysterious one-armed man, Macreedy, (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train in a tiny desert town looking for someone. When he starts asking questions the town’s people get nervous, because they have a terrible secret and will stop at nothing to keep it that way.
Spencer Tracy was one of the biggest stars of the so-called Hollywood Golden Age. In 1955 he is an ageing man but definitely still cool. In Bad Day at Black Rock he plays a war veteran (the story is set in 1945, a couple of months after the end of WWII), looking for a Japanese farmer. He is one armed, and arrives in the dusty desert town by the train that usually never stops. His nice looking suit (which Tracy insisted on buying himself off the rack) quickly becomes dusty, especially as the violence and suspense picks up. Tracy’s character, Macreedy, is very much a big city fellow, who looks like he just stepped out of a noir crime thriller. His look and manner clash both literally and figuratively with the dusty farmers and cowboys. The result is very much a Noir Western, and a very successful one at that. The story is simply, but never drags, the short running time (around 80 minutes) feels just right. The tiny town offers a wide range of lovely characters, the nervous hotel keeper, the just sheriff, the femme fatale, the local tyrant who pulls all the string, and a wonderfully annoying Ernest Borgnine (you’re made of stone if don’t feel like kicking him at some point). Spencer Tracy’s came and cool is wonderfully entertaining, with hardly anyback story and a limited screentime, he manages to paint the full picture of his character; for his efforts he rightly earned his fifth Oscar nomination. Bad Day at Black Rock is a wonderfully written and well acted thriller of the sort they just don’t make any more. It’s highly recommended.
According to a biographer, Spencer Tracy wasn’t initially interested in the part, so the producers, who were very keen to get him, rewrote Macreedy as one-armed, thinking that no actor could resist playing a character with a physical disability.
Picture Copyright: SF Films