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When a mysterious one armed stranger arrives by train into the sleepy little desert town of Black Rock, he sets off a contagion of apprehension and hostility among the locals. Just as John J. Macready (Spencer Tracy) steps off the train the station manager/telegraph operator is alarmed and surprised that the train even stopped. It’s been four years since the last train stopped at Black Rock.
It’s been just a few months since the end of WWII, but retired Army man Macready finds he’s walked into inexplicably hostile territory by the reception from the locals. Why are these people so worked up about this stranger’s arrival? What is this town’s secret? And there is a terrible secret the whole town knows about.
No sooner has Macready walked into the desert hamlet’s one hotel than the young man (John Ericson) at the front desk informs him that there are no more vacancies while the number of keys dangling beside him expose him as a liar. Macready proceeds to sign the ledger anyway and helps himself to one of the keys.
The miserable little town, if you can call a ramshackle desert space a town is composed of thugs and cowards. Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine are the bullies and Marvin’s performance as the Alpha Jerk really makes one want to turn his front teeth into back teeth. These guys, however, take their orders from one Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) who runs the town as if he owns it and this includes the Sheriff.
There is only one woman in this town it seems …the only in the movie at least. A lovely tomboy glamorously played by Anne Francis. There is some suggestion later on that she may be romantically linked to Smith but other than that her character seems out of place in this all macho cauldron.
Director John Sturges is widely remembered for his many Westerns such as Gunfight at the OK Corral and The Magnificent Seven just to name a couple. And his affinity for the Old West is on display with the vast, arid landscapes.
When Macready explains that he needs a car to see a farmer by the name of Komoko, Smith informs him that shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed Komoko was transferred to a relocation camp and no one has since heard from him.
Among the themes in this film are that of xenophobia and racism. Bad Day at Black Rock is the first American movie that deals with the matter of Japanese internment camps.
There is an oppressive sense of waiting through out the film. The thugs relentlessly goad Macready but he refuses to take the bait. Both the locals and the audience are in anticipation when will Macready finally take ACTION. While Bad Day at Black Rock is not an action film in the traditional sense, it is, never the less, a testosterone driven psychological drama of moves and counter moves leading to a final confrontation of moral choices of justice, courage, allegiances and manliness.
To order Bad Day at Black Rock on DVD from AMAZON click here.