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Worth A Look: 16.13%
Just Average: 3.23%
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Sucks: 3.23%

2 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Bad Day at Black Rock
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by Jay Seaver

"Great cast, pretty darn good movie."
5 stars

Check out the cast on this movie: Spencer Tracy. Lee Marvin. Ernest Borgnine. Anne Francis. Robert Ryan. Walter Brennan. That's not quite a bloated epic cast, especially since a few of them were still on their way up. It catches the eye in retrospect, though, doesn't it? It's certainly worth checking out based on the cast alone, especially since the audience will get a tight little thriller for its trouble.

A few months after the end of World War II, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train in Black Rock, Arizona, which causes something of a stir in the tiny town; no-one has done that in something like four years. He's looking for a Joe Komoko, which puts the residents even more on edge, and downright uncooperative. Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) seems to be the ringleader, giving Macreedy "friendly advice" to leave things alone, while Hector David (Lee Marvin) and Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) are more overtly hostile. Doctor/vet/undertaker T.R. Veile (Walter Brennan) and layabout sheriff Tim Horn (Dean Jagger) are more sympathetic, but are pretty pointedly ignorant. Pretty young mechanic Liz Wirth (Anne Francis) doesn't get the memo before renting him a jeep, and his trip out to the Komoko homestead at Adobe Flats has the townspeople even more determined to figure out just who Macreedy is and why he's so interested in Komoko.

Black Rock upends a lot of genre expectations. It's structured as a mystery, it turns that form right on its head: The film couldn't be much more clear from the beginning on who committed which crime, so we spend a lot more time puzzling out the history and motivations of the sleuth than the suspects. The setting is a ramshackle western town, but the movie takes place smack in the middle of the 20th century. It's full of murky film noir morality and betrayals, but scenes occur in broad daylight. Sure, many westerns are technically crime films; it's still unusual to see the two blended in this way.

It works, though, because the writers have a pretty reliable engine with which to run the story: Secrets, by their nature, breed mistrust. Black Rock initially seems to be in a state of uncomfortable equilibrium, but Macreedy is throwing that off even before he specifically expresses interest in Komoko, and his very presence soon begins to fracture the town in addition to making him a target. What's really impressive is how the movie, despite a short running time (81 minutes!), finds the time to trouble the souls of most of its characters and see how each reacts individually.

Spencer Tracy is a pleasure as Macreedy, grumping his way through the movie with his left arm in a pocket the whole time to signify an amputated hand. It's emasculating for him to be looked at as a cripple, and he certainly has the air of a man who won't start any more trouble than he has to, but will by god finish it. Robert Ryan takes the opposite tack as Smith, appearing calm throughout, confident of the hold he has on his town. When he does lose his cool, it's a temporary thing, and the effect is to make him seem even colder afterward.

As good as they are, the colorful supporting cast is what really makes the film stand out. Smith's main henchmen, for instance, are played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine before they became stars in their own right. Marvin intimidates; he plays Hector as having something close to Smith's self-control but more willing to overtly throw his weight around. Borgnine is the film's loose cannon, laughing maniacally as he tries to get rid of Macreedy. John Ericson is good as the young and uncertain member of the crew, while Ann Francis is pure brass as his little sister. Dean Jagger is pitiable as the drunk of a sheriff, and Walter Brennan lively as the closest thing the town has to a conscience.

Director John Sturges doesn't waste a drop of any of these ingredients; he's got the town and audience on edge right from the very beginning, pushing the tension every second he gets. He stages three quality action scenes - Macreedy does all right for a guy with one hand - but the movie never seems like just the means to connect them.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3674&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/14/09 12:55:23
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User Comments

1/20/13 action movie fan sturges best film not overlong and holds the viewers interest 4 stars
1/15/09 brian Tracy as a real man's man taking on a town of creeps. Excellent! 4 stars
1/11/08 Pamela White Tracy makes a great performance 5 stars
6/10/07 James Gibson One of my favourite classics 5 stars
2/01/07 Charles Tatum Good allegory, but a little too lean 4 stars
11/09/05 Terry Brooks One of my favorite movies 5 stars
12/28/04 Robert Smith As good or better than High Noon 5 stars
12/11/04 MD A Classic 5 stars
7/09/03 Doc Great Flick, wonderful. 5 stars
4/06/03 Jack Sommersby Until turning conventional in final 3rd, this is world-class filmmaking. Tracey is aces! 4 stars
3/02/03 Anders Svenhed One of the best movies ever made 5 stars
1/25/03 Jack Sommersby Until going awry in the end, this is first-rate, breathtaking work. Suspenseful. 4 stars
11/21/02 ad crap 1 stars
12/16/01 Andrew Carden Good Actors and CinemaScope...but Pretty Dull Otherwise. 3 stars
6/21/01 Terrie Smith Great film; one of Tracy's best. Confrontation between him and Borgnine is a gem. 5 stars
2/07/01 Don F> Has an atmosphere that can only be called noir, yet it's shot in the bright desert sun 5 stars
1/07/01 R.W. Welch Largely overlooked, this is a finely crafted piece that creates an aura all its own. 5 stars
11/13/00 Jerry Brigham The most quotable script I've ever read.The lines stand alone. 5 stars
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  07-Jan-1955 (NR)



Directed by
  John Sturges

Written by
  Don McGuire

  Spencer Tracy
  Robert Ryan
  Anne Francis
  Dean Jagger
  Walter Brennan
  Ernest Borgnine

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