John Sturges' BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
A noir-ish Western from 1955 is taut and loaded with powerhouse acting talent.
A long passenger train crawls into view through a vast, spectacular, but forlorn desert landscape. For the first time in four years the train stops at the decrepit and miniscule town called Black Rock. It disgorges a stranger wearing a suit, tie, and hat.
Who is this guy? Why has the train stopped after so many years of passing through? And who is this stranger in a dark suit who, despite having one arm, projects a calm but resolute sense of authority?
Most of all, what does he want — and why do the town’s residents seem so reluctant to provide him with any welcome or for that matter any information when he tells them whom he wants to see?
Very quickly we realize they are hiding something. The stranger sees that too.
This begins a unique but very entertaining film that is beautifully photographed, acted, scripted, edited, and acted. Spencer Tracy plays the stranger and he has some surprises up his sleeve. Robert Ryan is the Town Boss With Something to Hide. Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine play his henchmen. Walter Brennan is the town’s “doctor” and Dean Jagger the rum-soaked “sherrif.”
They all know what is being hidden from Tracy. No one wants to go first and we follow Tracy around as he gets doors slammed in his face. There’s a violent conclusion that’s almost too neat but by then we’ve followed the tension throughout the film because we want to know what happens next.
Review copyright (c) 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald