Movie Review – Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Director: John Sturges

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson

John J. Macreedy (Tracy) steps off a train in a small, isolated town and is instantly met with sneers and a distinct lack of hospitality. When he reveals that he’s there to deliver a medal of honour to a Japanese-American, he encounters hostility and begins to unravel a mystery that threatens to expose a dark undercurrent running through the speck of a town.

This small, tight film boasts a good cast, with Borgnine and Marvin appearing before they fully broke out. The film was incredibly tense with a lot of subdued resentment between the characters. I liked how the group of the town were so casual about their superiority, and how the leader, Reno (Ryan) rarely took action until he was called to. There were members who struggled with what they were hiding, but others revelled in their actions.

But it’s Tracy who is the standout here. I loved how Macreedy dealt with the bullies. Although they baited and insulted him he never rose to them, always remaining cool and collected. My favourite scene was the one in the restaurant. I thought the ending was…okay, I feel it suited the tone and pacing but there was one death that I feel was brushed over too quickly, especially given how another death was the driving force of the story. It’s very tight though and much of the story is told through vocal intonations and facial expressions. It’s a good model for subtle storytelling and for this reason I liked it quite a bit.

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