Friday, April 9, 2010

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges

This is a movie not to be missed. From the moment the train stops at Black Rock, and a stranger, Spencer Tracy, disembarks, the mystery and suspense begin to build. Everyone in town treats Tracy with hostility, for no apparent reason. Some of the townspeople are completely evil while others struggle between the overwhelming power of the evil and a vestige of a conscience.

Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and Lee Marvin all play villains very effectively. John Ericson, and his sister, Anne Francis, are the young people of the town. The sheriff, Dean Jagger, has stuffed his cowardice and guilt in a liquor bottle. And Walter Brennan is the practical town doctor who goes along to get along. Here’s an exchange between Tracy and Brennan:

Tracy: “I got a problem of my own.”

Brennan: “You sure have. They’re going to kill you with no hard feelings.”
Tracy: “And you’re going to sit there and let ‘em do it.”
Brennan; “Don’t get waspish with me, mister....I feel for you, but I’m consumed with apathy.”

So what happened in this town and why the hostility to a stranger? And why is the stranger here? Facts are slowly revealed while the tension builds, and there’s not a weak moment in the film. Tracy remains in his black suit while the rest of the cast is dressed in casual western gear; this only strengthens the contrast between them. Filmed on location, John Sturges and William C. Mellor (cinematographer) put you in this hot, dry, Western town and with the wide angles, show how isolated it is and cut off from the rest of the world (before Tracy, the train has not stopped here for four years). The movie score was composed by Andre Previn and his music enhances every moment.

Spencer Tracy made ten movies after this film (he died in 1967) and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for this role. The award instead went to one of his co-stars, Ernest Borgnine for “Marty”. But watch for the fight in the bar between Tracy and Borgnine when Tracy takes his early revenge. Another interesting side note: Sturges took home the Oscar for Best Director, beating out the director of “Marty”, Delbert Mann.

Here’s one more piece of the puzzle for you: Tracy is a one-armed man. If you can figure out this movie before the conclusion, let me know, but you will be totally hooked up to the end.

“I think something kind of bad happened here...,something I can’t quite seem to find a handle to.”

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