Brittany Runs a Marathon
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BDABR is a flawless film. Spencer Tracy is the one-armed man coming into town on the only train to search for a Japanese war hero. But the town hides a dark secret and John Sturgess and cinematographer William C Mellor capture reflections on Tracy in windows or framed in doorways - all highlighting his increasing entrapment in a town slowly closing in on him. While the theme is racism or fear of the 'other' this is really about how hatred eats away at us shown in a town turning against itself, unable to survive its dark heart. Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger and Anne Francis are the incredible support cast (Alan Ladd's agent passed on the script!) to Tracy who fearlessly beats a path to the truth, even when it seems inevitably to lead to his own demise. The genius of creating a world where a man is trapped in a town surrounded by desert gives a feeling of terror. Finally the town is forced to face its demons to free itself and move on. Perhaps our need to hate comes from survival. But it will always find an outlet. Hate of the other, hate of ourselves, hate of a film, book, political viewpoint. Like BDABR it will lead to the same outcome: Stagnation and rotting from within.
Spencer Tracy is outstanding as the outsider that comes to a small town in the dry, dusty southwest that's hiding something. And he's just the man to find out what it is!
Just a tour de force in how a film can build tension and suspense while you're waiting for what's going to be revealed. Then a great climatic ending with an unexpected twist that I didn't see coming.
Tracy is bolstered by a great cast of seasoned character actors including Anne Francis, one of my favorites. Also, fabulous sets and stunning scenery that gives a real feel for a claustrophobic small town in the wide open desert.
"Bad Day at Black Rock" is definitely a film worth seeing!
Cheap and poorly done. The plot is thin and executed with extreme simplicity. This is the worst of early television: the kind you would turn off. There is no suspense here and no "racial gangs" since none are mentioned and none materialize. Everyone is caucausian and the "hated" minority is supposedly one dead Japanese person. We are supposed to be afraid of this gang of "racists". Maybe we should be more afraid at how this town is nor run like the normal American town. In fact, this movie could have been an episode of the Twilight Zone had it been written better. As it is, it is trite, the acting from Tracy is bad as usual, and how can we believe the premise to this simplistic plot? It's a loser.
The best movie character ever portrayed: Robert Ryan as Reno Smith!
Superb slow burning thriller with suspense and tension filling every scene. Spencer Tracy fabulously leads a wonderful cast as the one armed mystery man visiting a darkly secretive town.
I had heard of Bad Day at Black Rock but more or less assumed it was just another standard Western about sheriffs, outlaws, and all that standard stuff. I was more than a little surprised when the first credit I saw on the DVD box was Spencer Tracy. He’s a great actor, but one genre I wouldn’t associate him with is Westerns. That’s the most interesting aspect of this movie, the way that it bridges the gap of time between the old west and the modernization that started to change these towns in the late 40s and early 50s (particularly after World War II.) You can see the contrast between the old-fashioned mentality and the more modern sensibility every time Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan interact in this film. It’s a unique time and place to set a film, and I appreciate that it felt different from anything else I’ve seen from that era. The story is one that doesn’t move all that briskly, which started to bother me. They spent a fair amount of time trying to build tension between the town and this new face in their midst, and I was only buying into the tension about half the time. While the confrontations were entertaining they seemed rare, so all the anticipation they had built up didn’t have a strong enough pay-off. I also felt like they spent a great deal of time creating a mystery around why Tracy had come to town, and the reveal was less than impressive and not all that surprising. That being said the tone and performances in Bad Day at Black Rock were all great. It wasn’t a failure at all, and I wonder if I would enjoy the movie more on a rewatch now that I know the whole story and have proper expectations. It’s a good film, and one that is different from any other I’ve seen in the Western genre.
A no-nonsense modern-day Western from director John Sturges with one-armed city veteran Spencer Tracey walking into the shady outback town of Robert Ryan and goons. Sturges raises the tension effectively as the drama plays out like a reworking of High Noon along with some other interesting spins on the genre. Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Dean Jagger also appear in early roles.
Racial bigotry is at the heart of this small town drama as a stranger comes to town looking for someone who isn't there. Tracy is his usual Rock-of-Gibraltar lead as the returning vet looking for the father of a fellow serviceman, but the supporting cast make this a full meal of anxious tension. There's a fight scene, too, that'll surprise you.
In 1955, as the repugnance of McCarthyism raged in America, this film emerged, trying to come to terms with racism and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war. What an extraordinary thing that is, acknowledging a shameful injustice at a time when some considered it subversive to do so.
Spencer Tracy is in the lead role of a lone, one-arm stranger who gets off a train in a dusty town in the middle of nowhere at the film's beginning. He's met with rude behavior from the townsfolk from the start, and director John Sturges is brilliant in gradually ramping this up to outright hostility. The town has a secret surrounding a Japanese-American we never see, because he disappeared shortly after Pearl Harbor. Tracy's character feels a debt to this man because his son died trying to save his life in Italy. He's just one quiet man against a group of racist thugs, whose ringleader is played well by Reno Smith, and his own safety becomes seriously threatened. It has the feel of classic westerns, but with a very different reason for the conflict.
One of the wonderful aspects about the film is that there is only one exchange that reveals the ugliness of this guy's beliefs, that there was no difference between Japanese-Americans and those who bombed Pearl Harbor or who tortured Americans on the Bataan Death March. There are no others; the beliefs simply lie buried and dormant, under what to the dominant culture will appear a rural but 'normal' town. There are those who know what happened is wrong, but are complicit in their silence. In all of this, it's easy to see the parallels to racism today.
The strongest performance in the film comes from Lee Marvin, who is seriously creepy and intimidating as one of the heavies. Ernest Borgnine is also very good as another, and the scene he has with Tracy in the diner, pushing him to the very limit, is one of the film's best. Spencer Tracy is strong, but I have to say, at 55, he was probably a little bit too old for the role, Oscar nomination notwithstanding.
The film is well paced at just 81 minutes, which is just right for the story. It's unfortunate that the musical score wasn't as restrained. Andre Previn's score is over-the-top and far too expressive in several of the film's scenes. It's also a little odd that the town, as small as it is, appears to have one and only one woman (Anne Francis).
With that said, how fantastic the film's message is, that standing up for what's right sometimes means standing up for a powerless minority, and there is a need to speak up instead of remaining silent. It channels the best of what America should be, made in 1955 at a time when those values were threatened, and viewed 63 years later, when this humble reviewer can't help but feel they are threatened again.
A fine suspense movie and morality tale, with a great cast and the backdrop of big desert country. The build up is slow and very well done, and the movie is simple, direct and distilled, without distractions.