Our Weekly Entertainment Dispatch
A stranger comes to town
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
A train stops in a one-horse desert town in post-World War II California. A man has come looking to settle a debt and finds a town wracked with guilt and willing to kill to protect their secret. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) is a truly unusual movie, a study in human nature and institutional guilt.
Spencer Tracy portrays John J. Macreedy, a one-armed disabled World War 2 veteran. He has come to Black Rock to give a medal to a man named Komoko. Komoko’s son died saving Macreedy’s life in Italy. He gets the cold shoulder from several of the men in town, who want him gone immediately. He knows there is something going on here and now he is involved.
This group of local toughs are hiding a secret. A secret that they will do anything to protect, and suddenly Macreedy finds himself in a fight for his life as he tries to uncover it.
There’s an old saying that there are really only two types of plots: “a man goes on a journey” or “a stranger comes to town.” This film is essentially both. But while the premise and plot captures the viewer immediately, what is truly standout about Bad Day at Black Rock is the acting. Spencer Tracy gives one of his greatest performances as the one-armed crusader who is more than he appears. The band of local toughs is led by a riveting Robert Ryan, who is one of those character actors you’ve seen many times but never matched to a name.
Tracy and Ryan are supported by Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, and John Ericson. The guilt-wracked, alcoholic sheriff is played by Dean Jagger (who’s distinctive voice you will immediately recognize). The cast is small but filled with Oscar winners and some of classic Hollywood’s most notable performers. It’s the cast that carries this one.
What is also unique about the film is its messaging on morality. Without giving away too much, it is one of the first films to take on the issue of the United States’ Japanese internment program during the war. The film explores greed and racism, suggesting that a moral path and atonement is necessary to live a guilt-free life. It was groundbreaking at the time and remains moving and entertaining today.
There is no cop in this film, no detective to solve the case. But the crusading Macreedy provides all the force needed to make this one of our recommendations. The film is short – it only runs about 80 minutes. But it’s an 80 minutes you will feel.
We couldn’t find Bad Day at Black Rock for free anywhere, but it can be found on all the regular streaming services for a few bucks. It’s worth it.
So take some time out of your weekend to check out an American classic. Bad Day at Black Rock brings a message with great acting, a cool hero, and some action. You will be glad you saw it.
Enjoy the movie and Stay Safe!