Tuesday 28 May 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock [1955]

Bad Day at Black Rock was not just an incredibly tense, gripping, nail-bitingly suspenseful and feverishly paced psychological thriller, it also provided a disturbing look into xenophobia, racial prejudice and collective guilt. Consequently, though John Sturges is mostly remembered for the likes of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, this largely underrated Modern Western gem might just be the smartest film he ever made. When a suavely dressed and mild-mannered one-armed stranger named John MacReedy (Spencer Tracy) arrives in the dusty one-horse town of Black Rock – the train that he arrives in makes a stop there for the first time in 4 years just to drop him – it palpably sends a wave of cold shiver through the town. What starts as visible curiosity and even impertinence, however, ends up taking the shape of open hostility and violence, as the town folks seem to be desperate to keep MacCreedy from digging up a very dark secret from their past. His nemesis turns out to be the slimy town boss Reno (Robert Ryan) and his brutish bullies (Ernest Borgnine and Lee Mervin), while his unlikely ally turns out to be the local doctor (Walter Brennan) as the rest of the folks blindly obey Reno’s diktats even when their conscience directs otherwise. The sparsely populated town, along with the grimy locales, stripped-down visuals and terse conversations, added to the mood of paranoia, suspicion, distrust and deception that dominated the film’s crisp run-time. Tracey was terrific as the seemingly amiable but essentially steel-willed protagonist, while the support cast of Ryan, Borgnine, Mervin and Brennan was also very good in their roles.

Director: John Sturges
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Mystery/Modern Western
Language: English
Country: US


Jon said...

This is a classic and I've been a fan since I was a kid. Brilliant cast. Great cinemascope. Very interesting plot filled with depth. Great review.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Jon. I too am glad that I finally watched this film. Yes, one can hardly find a flaw in it - every single aspect worked very well.

Sam Juliano said...

Yes, a tense, involving film with a great setting and that now iconic lead portrayal. Yes some of the racial issues seem dated and heavy-handed in execution, but not nearly enough to derail one's riveting involvement. Excellent review Shubhajit!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Well, the racial issues were tad heavy-handed but I'm not sure if they're dated. But yes, all its socio-political undercurrents aside, it was indeed a riveting watch!