Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Director: John Sturges
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins & Walter Sande
Released by: Warner Archive
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Set in a desert ghost town, Bad Day at Black Rock finds WWII veteran John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind) passing through only to find his visit and reasons for doing so confronted with suspicion and threats from the locals, led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up). Unwelcome wherever he roams, Macreedy’s mysterious presence slowly reveals the town’s deadly secret. John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) helms the drama, nominated for three Academy Awards.
Beautifully shot in the golden vistas of Lone Pine, California and neighboring Nevada, Bad Day at Black Rock is a captivating viewing experience, blending the realms of western noir and suspenseful intrigue. Following the aftermath of World War II, handicapped veteran John J. Macreedy travels to the sleepy community of Black Rock in search of a man named Komoko. Met with unwavering suspicion and coldness from the tight-knit locals, Macreedy finds himself refused a hotel room and overwhelmed with questions regarding his business. Slowly developing a pleasant relationship with the local doctor while, the town sheriff wallows in self-pity and alcohol, the town’s true leader Remo Smith informs the curious traveler that his Japanese friend was interned during the course of the war. Refusing to believe the questionable tales spun by Black Rock’s aggressively racist residents, Macreedy investigates matters on his own determining more is not right than previously assumed. With messages to the state police left unsent and Smith’s henchmen hellbent on making the veteran suffer for not leaving well enough alone, a war is waged between Smith longing to keep the town’s secret intact and the outsider with nothing left to lose. Battling his own personal fight against alcoholism at the time while being questionably too old for the part, Spencer Tracy dazzles in the lead as a suit-wearing mystery man arriving in a dusty town uncovering the worst and then some. In addition, Robert Ryan plays the film’s heel with a sharp coyness that makes his violent turn against Macreedy in the final act all the more effective. Furthermore, Smith’s cronies, played namely by Lee Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) who goes toe-to-toe with Macreedy in a barroom brawl, are perfect supporting heavies to Ryan’s calm but dangerous baddie. An expert demonstration of drama and tensely orchestrated suspense, Bad Day at Black Rock, rightly categorized by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osbourne as essential, is just that.
Warner Archive presents Bad Day at Black Rock with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Capturing the grandiose mountains, blue skies and desert terrain of its setting, colors are bold and beautiful while, skin tones are never comprised. Featuring crisp levels of detail in the costume’s of Black Rock’s locals and Macreedy’s black suit, sweat beads and dirt scuffs on facial features and attire are captured with ease. Free of any unwanted scuffs or scratches, the film’s transfer is an absolute stunner. Equipped with a perfectly suited DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that relays crisp dialogue exchanges and the roar of train engines, quality is of equal measure to its visual counterpart. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan and the Theatrical Trailer (3:26).
Gorgeously photographed and packing powerful performances, Bad Day at Black Rock is a most memorable experience with cutting suspense capable of keeping viewers glued to its unfolding. Also known as being Spencer Tracy’s last onscreen role for MGM, Warner Archive upgrades this essential slice of cinema to high-definition with splendid clarity and filmic naturalness sure to be hailed as its definitive home video statement.