"Before Jet Li, Jackie Chan, or Bruce Lee, there was...Spencer Tracy!"
You know how they say "they don't make em' like they used to"? Well, mostly they don't, and this is one little film noir gem that I hope the 'remake rapists' of our generation don't get their exploitative, grubby little hands on!Spencer Tracy stars as John MacCreedy, a mysterious stranger who's found himself trapped in the remote western shanty-town of Black Rock. As MacCreedy tries to carry on with his business, he encounters an increasingly hostile and uncooperative townsfolk who will stop at nothing to keep their skeletons hanging nicely in their closets.
Tracy unfortunately lost out on an oscar for his portrayal of MacCreedy, a headstrong WW2 veteran with an amputated arm, an altruistic attitude, and some lethal judo skills. This guy is the baddest one-armed mutha since that guy from The Fugitive! It's a shame this film didn't garner more academy praise as the script was strong, the direction competent, and there were some awesome performances by Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, and Lee Marvin. Don't expect a Hong Kong brawling movie, however: Black Rock's strength lies in its film noir and western oriented suspense.
Black Rock was originally filmed in a technique called "Cinemascope", a widescreen process which will be wasted on standard televisions. This in no way inhibits the film, though, as John Sturges' direction and William Mellor's cinematography are spot on in any format. The use of the bright desert sunlight contrasting the deep hues of the town and its inhabitants plants a subconscious feeling that some horrible, dark secret is struggling to come to light. The action scenes all have that great "slowed-down/sped-up" kinetic feel that you'll find present in other movies of the era.
The script, while somewhat simplistic and prone to repeating itself, is wonderfully pulpy and well-written. There's numerous exchanges of dialogue between Tracy and the town roughnecks that are nothing short of brilliant. In a confrontation with MacCreedy, Borgnine's character gets the classic line "I'm half hoss and half alligator...mess with me an I'll kick a lung outta ya". Tracy's character MacCreedy is also written intelligently...instead of having unrealistically macho bravado, MacCreedy is actually terrified at the fact that he's stranded and outnumbered. Besides being entertaining, the script also addresses issues that at the time few other movies would've dared touch. Only a decade after the great war, you find Bad Day at Black Rock openly criticising the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans in internment camps. It also puts a spotlight on the ugly spectre of racism, and all this in a time when blacks in the southern U.S. were still being forced to drink from seperate drinking fountains and required to sit in the back of public buses. Through Tracy's character's and the guilt-ridden population of Black Rock, social and moral responsibility is a theme that is brought up frequently.Bad Day at Black Rock will entertain you and so much more...it'll bring you back to a time when actors with good scripts were talented enough to draw you into a story without millions of dollars in special effects.