Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)


A one-armed World War II veteran, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy, Boys Town), arrives at the small town of Black Rock. Macreedy goes about his business, unaware that the residents of Black Rock harbor a dark secret.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I believe a man is as big as what he’s seeking.”

Brilliantly directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven), tightly written by Millard Kaufman (Raintree County), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Bad Day at Black Rock is a superb little suspense movie, a great example of 1950s noir.

Bad Day at Black Rock is a terrific exercise in minimalism. It’s also a very visual film. Director Sturges uses wide angels and empty spaces brilliantly. Actually, I’ve always found it odd that such a small-scale production relies so much on the visual glories of CinemaScope, but the experiment works exceedingly well.

Additionally, Kaufman’s script touches upon many hot topics like xenophobia, tribalism, and patriotism. The movie is filled with irony as well — the residents of the town embrace a fascist ideology in an attempt to preserve what they perceive as true American values. All these ideas are neatly packed together into eighty-one short minutes.

The cast is wonderful. Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou), Dean Jagger (Elmer Gantry), Walter Brennan (The Westerner) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) play a rabble of assorted town folks. However, Spencer Tracy walks away with the movie — his naturalistic style has never been better displayed. It’s in fact my favorite performance of his — it’s hard to find another actor that does as much without moving an eyebrow.

Not entirely surprising, Tracy, director Sturges, and writer Kaufman received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work here (Tracy also won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival). The excellent cast also includes Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet) in the only female role in the film. William C. Mellor’s (A Place in the Sun and Peyton Place) cinematography is fantastic, too.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Bad Day at Black Rock is packed with all kinds of interesting ideas. For example, this is one of the first American movies to talk about the Japanese-Americans internment camps. Bad Day at Black Rock is one of the great thrillers of the ’50s — a powerful movie that I highly recommend! Color, 81 minutes, Not Rated.


7 responses to “Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

  1. Spencer Tracy was a wonderful actor, I can’t think of a performance by him that I didn’t love. The fight scene with Borgnine is almost surreal, but absolutely brutal.

    Liked by 1 person

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