Bad Day at Black Rock (J. Sturges, 1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges, 1955)

As the opening credits roll, the camera swoops, dives, and circles a train as it races down the track towards a one-road town. The train stops and off hops Spencer Tracy who, in his suit, sticks out like a sore thumb in this town not known for its guests. From the very start he is treated with much caution and never respectfully. An aura of mystery surrounds this man, why he is in this town, and why no one seems to want him there.

Sturges makes an interesting decision and reveals the answers to these questions very early on. I’m torn on how I feel about this. On the one hand (and though I have nothing against enlightening viewers to avoid big reveals at the end of a film), it felt strange to create such a mysterious setting only to let it fizzle early on. But on the other hand, it sets up a unique ‘trapped’ atmosphere for the middle portion of the film. There are ups and downs throughout, but it’s unlike any western I’ve seen.  8.5/10


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