Bad Day at Black Rock
Directed by John Sturges
Written by Millard Kaufman and Don McGuire based on a story by Howard Breslin
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#287 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Reno Smith: He was a Jap, wasn’t he?
This is an excellent modern-day Western looking at the dark heart of xenophobia in America.
It is 1945. John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) stops in the hamlet of Black Rock. His train is the first to have stopped there in four years and the town looks like it consists of about four or five buildings. He is trying to visit a man named Kokomo who lives in nearby Adobe Flat. Macreedy’s mere presence was greeted with great suspicion by the townspeople and, once they hear his purpose, he can find neither shelter nor transportation. The two elders of the community – its drunken sheriff (Dean Jagger) and doctor (Walter Brennan) – try to warn him away.
Then Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), clearly the town’s unofficial “boss”, shows up and things start to get even more scary. However, Macreedy manages to commandeer a jeep from gas jockey Liz (Anne Francis). He discovers Kokomo’s house burned down and what seems to him to be a grave. Now Macreedy’s life is truly in danger but the one-armed man reacts to all threats with equanimity.
The rest of the film is filled with suspense as our hero tries to stay one step ahead of certain death. With Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as thugs.
This is a smartly shot and tightly wound film. Some of the best actors of the 1950’s are gathered here and all in top form. The message transcends its wartime setting. One quibble I had was that Macreedy probably had a good chance to go for help early on which he squandered. But I suppose if he had acted with greater caution we wouldn’t have had a film! Recommended.
A Bad Day at Black Rock was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor (Tracy); Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay.