color 81 min.
Director: John Sturges
CLV: out-of-print collectible
1 disc, catalog # CC1265L
It is 1945. For the first time in four years, the Southern Pacific
stops in Black Rock. A one-armed man named John J. MacReedy (Spencer
Tracy) steps off the train. This brooding stranger makes the few
residents who inhabit the town's tumble-down buildings and surrounding
desert ranches uneasy, especially when he mysteriously brings up a
name they never wanted to hear again, Komoko.
Komoko was a Japanese rancher who vanished without a trace a few
years before, not long after the war started. MacReedy quickly
realizes everyone in town shares a terrible secret about Komoko's
disappearance. Some are tempted to reveal the secret to relieve their
guilt but others are too frightened of rancher Reno Smith (Robert
Ryan) and his two henchmen (Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin) who
terrorize them into keeping silent. "This guy's like a carrier of
smallpox," says Smith. "Since he's arrived this town's had a fever, an
infection and it's spreading." But the elderly doctor (Walter Brennan)
approves of the stranger stirring things up in the sick town: "Maybe
this fellah MacReedy's got the prescription."
A cult favorite today, this taut, efficiently-made, modern-day
western was hailed by critics in the fifties. Many compared it to
High Noon because it featured an individual who takes on
several bad guys while the townspeople do nothing. Adapted from a
story by Howard Breslin, Mildred Kaufman's bold script about racial
hatred and misguided "Americanism" was singled out for praise, as was
Andre Previn's powerful score, and the widescreen Panavision
photography of William C. Mellor. Mellor's work is most striking in
shots of the town of Black Rock set against the flat desert terrain of
one of film history's most classic western locations -- the Lone Pine
area at the foot of Mount Whitney at the eastern slope of the Sierra
Director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great
Escape, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Escape from Fort
Bravo, Ice Station Zebra) was one of the best directors of
masculine action films in which the setting had thematic relevance and
men confronted terrible odds and/or attempted daring escapes. His
heroes were usually of the Burt Lancaster-Clint Eastwood-John
Wayne-Charles Bronson type, but he worked well with the non-rugged
Tracy on The People Against O'Hara, The Old Man and the
Sea, and, particularly, Bad Day at Black Rock, for which
Sturges received the Best Director Oscar nomination.
Spencer Tracy was named Best Actor at Cannes (sharing the honor
with, ironically, Ernest Borgnine for Marty who also won the
Oscar for that performance) and received his fifth Oscar nomination
for his controlled, subtle portrayal of the stranger. He plays
MacReedy with such politeness and timidity that initially we're
surprised that the imposing Ryan should fear him and refer to him as a
"big" man. "I believe a man is as big as what makes him mad," says
Ryan. "Nobody around here seems big enough to make you mad." Ryan
turns out to be correct about the mild-mannered stranger. The exciting
scene in which Borgnine tries to bully MacReedy only to be
karate-chopped into submission is the film's highlight. Here, Tracy's
character quickly brings to mind such surprisingly lethal characters
as James Stewart's Destry and Toshiro Mifune's Yojimbo.
While Tracy is at the heart of the picture, it's delightful to
watch him interact with his fabulous supporting cast. Ryan plays one
of his better neurotic characters, and Marvin and Borgnine (cast here
because of his sadistic guard role in From Here to Eternity) gleefully
play frightening villains. Walter Brennan is as feisty as ever, and
Dean Jagger is wonderful as a cowardly lawman. Young Anne Francis (who
was on her way to Forbidden Planet and The Blackboard Jungle) plays
the one female in town, and considering the sorry choice of men
(handsome John Erickson is her brother), we can forgive her for
falling for Smith even as we wonder, will she double-cross the
stranger to help Smith?
These characters the stranger comes into contact with create
tension, conflict, romance and mystery that contribute to the action.
Because some try to avoid him and others try to kill him, there will
indeed be a Bad Day in Black Rock. -- DANNY PEARY A note from
the director: Danny Peary's review of Bad Day says it all, and
very well too, for which all of us who made the picture are
grateful. It also brings to mind many memories of the film, including
one that is truly extraordinary.
Making a picture, particularly of the physical nature such as this
one, can often (maybe I should say usually) be a constant struggle
with intransigent and debilitating elements. Locations or light
conditions that defy effective staging, weather that forces endless
compromise. A script that when put into action keeps slipping out of
gear -- the list is almost endless.
Bad Day wanted to be made. Before the camera ever rolled or
construction even started on the little town, everything fell into
place, and it was all right on. Meaningful story, flawless script and
cast -- everything. Right down to how to get the train on to the
abandoned tracks to the remote area near Lone Pine. And as a bonus we
had full wide-screen photography -- one of the very first. The
background of stark mountains, huge Streamliner train, barren deserts,
all became players in the story, integrated into the mystery and
violence of its theme.
I don't see how anyone could have blown directing this picture, but
if they had, they should have shot me -- not Komoko.
-- JOHN STURGES
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Dore Schary
Screenplay: Millard Kaufman
Adaptation: Don McGuire, based on a story by Howard Breslin
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Malcolm Brown
Editor: Newell P. Kimlin, A.C. E.
Cinematographer: William C. Mellor, A.S.C.
Music: Andre Previn
Associate Producer: Herman Hoffman
This edition of Bad Day at Black Rock was transferred from a
35mm fine grain print in the correct 2.55:1 aspect ratio. The
soundtrack was mastered from a 35mm magnetic track.