Bad Day At Black Rock is one of those wild card movies, as I call them, from my childhood. My brother and I saw this flick when we were little kids, but the genres we used to watch the most were science fiction movies and monster movies. Dramas/mysteries weren’t our bread and butter, but you know how it is when you’re a kid, you end up sampling any genre when the television is on and your bored, or if it’s a Sunday.
There were also some movies we watched based solely on their titles. We’d come across them in the TV Guide and want to check them out because they ignited something in our imaginations. Case in point—Octaman (1971), The Creature Of Black Lake (1976), The Island Of The Burning Doomed (1967), and Attack Of The Mushroom People (1963) to name just four. I don’t remember if it was me or him that stumbled across Bad Day in the TV Guide, but when I heard of the title I immediately needed to know what this Black Rock place was and who or what was having a shitty day at it. I immediately imagined this actual, giant, Black Rock people lived on. I think we knew ahead of time it wasn’t a scifi or a monster movie, but that title was so strange to us we really didn’t give a shit what genre it fell under, we just needed to see it. And so we did. It might have become our first favorite movie in the drama genre. Well, not entirely drama, there’s a thread of mystery to it as well. I know TCM runs it frequently but I haven’t seen it since childhood. My brother on the other hand catches it from time to time on TCM.
It’s also a movie that’s not only a classic but one with that still holds relevance today since it centers on racism. Spencer Tracey plays John J. Macreedy who one day takes a train to this tiny cut-off-from-civilization town in the west called, Black Rock, a town no one has come to for four years, this obviously makes the cagey residents more nervous than usual. Macreedy is looking to go to Adobe Flats and see a Japanese man named Komoke. His son saved Macreedy in the war and he wants to pay his father back by giving him this medal. He’s been trying to contact Komoko for years via letters, but they keep getting returned. He’s finally taken it upon himself to come to Black Rock and seek the man out himself, but no one wants Macreedy there, and the more he interacts with the people, the more he learns something horrible happened to Komoko.
Dean Jagger (X The Unknown) plays Sheriff Tim Horn who’s been wracked with guilt for years that he never got to the bottom of this “mysterious incident” that happened out on Adobe Flats. He has now become an ineffective lawman who bows to the will of Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), the man at the heart of this cover up and who wields considerable power over the others who were also involved. Reno’s “goons,” Coley Trimble and Hector David are played by very young Ernest Borgnine (The Devil’s Rain, McHale’s Navy) and Lee Marvin (Death Hunt, The Delta Force) respectively. Both play heavies really well. I had forgotten Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet) was in this too in a small role that has her getting killed at the very end.
The secret Macreedy learns is that Smith is a racist and that his racism got severely inflamed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He tried to enlist but was rejected. That rejection led to a night of heavy drinking with some of the residents. Komoko lived out on Adobe Flats and that’s where he died. He arrived in Black Rock four years prior looking for a place to call home. Ryan and his buddies went out there to give Komoko some trouble but things turned bad when they burned down his house. Komoko came running out on fire and that’s when Smith shot him dead. And they intend to kill Macreedy too because he begins to learn the truth awfully quick.
For being an old man, and having only one hand, Macreedy is still a force to be reckoned with as he proves consistently when Reno, Colely and Hector try to get under his skin throughout the film, but he refuses to take the bait. This all comes to a head when Macreedy tries to get lunch at the local diner and Colely tries to pick a fight with him, hoping he’ll take the bait so he can kill the man and tell the officials it was self defense, but Macreedy kicks his ass with his knowledge of Judo.
Not everyone in town is out to kill him, Sheriff Horn is on his side even though his power is with Smith, and the local mortician, Doc Velie (Walter Brennan), tries to help him get out at one point, but that plan is fouled by Hector. Doc tells Macreedy he’s got until nightfall, they won’t try and kill him until then, and when that finally happens it’s Smith poised up on the rocks with a rifle. Macreedy manages to take him out in the manner in which Komoko died. He makes a Molotov cocktail and whips it at him, but he’s not killed. At least I don’t think he ever is.
The local desk clerk, Pete Wirth (John Ericson), also switches sides during the course of the movie and finally calls in the outside cops. It’s his sister, Liz (Francis), Smith killed in the final act for also becoming a turncoat.
This is one of those mystery/dramas where Good and Evil tease and taunt each other with their knowledge and power before any kind of violence explodes and all those dialogue scenes are well played by Tracey and Ryan. This is also a very photogenic movie with picturesque cinematography that comes off looking more than splendid on this new blu-ray.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 10.80p 2.40:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subs only.
The new HD transfer looks excellent!
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentary By Film Historian Dana Polan (Ported over from the 2005 DVD)