Black Rock is the town that civilization forgot, they like to keep to themselves which is why it’s such a shock when the steamliner stops in their town for the first time in four years and John J. Macreedy gets off intent to spend 24 hours in the town. Macreedy soon realizes that something is lurking beneath the hostility of the towns residents, something that has to do with the man he is looking for, a Japenese farmer named Komoko.
Bad Day at Black Rock is a phenomenal movie, there is no other way to put it. The film itself walks the line between film noir and western and perfectly encapsulates the sense of anger and defeat that still existed shortly after WWII, and the stress of the McCarthy era on the time the movie was made. Surprisingly it deals with one very central theme, racism or how we let our prejudices generalize what we think about someone. This was a very heavy topic for 1955, the era right before the civil rights movement and when people were being questioned about “red” activity.
I have to say I am a sucker for the metaphor that a train or train tracks provide. Typically these symbolically present a sense of destiny, a fixed course that the character or characters cannot move away from, and Bad Day at Black Rock plays off this beautifully. Not only is Macreedy delievered into town via train but one of the pivotal conversations between the villains of the film takes place as they lounge on the tracks. These characters are locked into a pattern, a course that they cannot escape no matter what they try and it will be carried out to its very end.
One cannot help but notice the sheer greatness of Spencer Tracy in this film. He is a one-armed war hero trying to stay alive and uncover a mystery and he is awe-inspiring as John J. Macreedy. He is the kind of character that actors look back at now when they need to play the hard-as-nails good guy, the guy who can make you break out into a sweat before he even threatens to throw a punch.
Bad Day at Black Rock needs to be watched by anyone who has a love for classic cinema or wants to be entertained by a story instead of a concept. This film is a tense under ninety minute experience and you will not regret it.
Director: John Sturges
Writer: Millard Kaufman
John J. Macreedy: Spencer Tracy
Reno Smith: Robert Ryan
Liz Wirth: Anne Francis
Sheriff Horm: Dean Jagger
Doc: Walter Brennan
Pete Wirth: John Ericson
Coley Trimble: Ernest Borgnine
Hector David: Lee Marvin
Sam: Walter Sande
Doc: Four years ago something terrible happened here. We did nothing about it, nothing. The whole town fell into a sort of settled melancholy and all the people in it closed their eyes, and held their tongues, and... failed the test with a whimper. And now something terrible's going to happen again -- and in a way we're lucky, because we've been given a second chance.