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USA 1955
Directed by
John Sturges
81 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Bad Day At Black Rock

Sturges’s film is justifiably admired by many for its widescreen Cinemascope style but despite its all-star cast including Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Walter Brennan and  Dean Jagger its rather theatrical, moralizing script and rote characterisations overwhelm it by the latter stages.

Tracy plays John J. Macreedy, a one-armed man who turns up in the Arizona dust-bowl town of Black Rock immediately after WWII looking for a Japanese farmer. Komoko. A couple of lounging thugs Coley (Ernest Borgnine) and Hector (Lee Marvin) are immediate hostile and he is told by their boss, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), that the Jap was shipped off to an internment camp immediately after Pearl Harbour. With so much obvious hostility  it doesn’t take much for Macreedy to figure what really happened so Smith decides that the Jap-lover should follow suit.

Whilst the film builds nicely to that point, from henceforth the wheels tend to come off.  That Smith and his cronies should have accidentally killed the Japanese farmer in a drunken spree is plausible, that they would cold-bloodedly murder a stranger is not (it gets even more improbable when the apparently psychotic Smith decides to remove all witnesses to his latest crime). Macreedy turns out to an expert in karate and all-round action hero, whilst Dean Jagger  plays the typical booze-sodden sheriff and Walter Brennan does his familiar schtick as Doc, the town vet and mortician (for a town which seems to have no inhabitants but the cast it is surprisingly well-provided for with facilities).  

The film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards although, in a strong year, did not win any. Ernest Borgnine did, however, win Best Actor that year for his very different role in Marty.




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