Friday, June 22, 2018

FEATURE FRIDAY: BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

     In 1955, the most popular American dramas were film noir and westerns. It wasn't long before studio executives began thinking of ways to combine the two genres in one story. Despite the seeming incompatibility of the themes, Hollywood actually succeeded in producing some really good and out-of-the-box productions. Some were set in the Old West, like the TV series Shotgun Slade. Others were set in the present, like our weekend feature, Bad Day at Black Rock.

    Bad Day at Black Rock was based on a popular 1947 novel by Howard Breslin, which was serialized in The American Magazine. The story takes us to the tiny rural village of Black Rock, a few months after the end of WW2. For the first time since the war began, a train lets off a passenger there. It is a mysterious one-armed stranger named John MacReedy (played by Spencer Tracy). MacReedy says that he is looking for a Japanese-American named Komoko. But Komoko is missing, and the town unwilling to discuss his fate. 

     MacReedy soon senses something is radically wrong. The town is under the thumb of Reno Smith (played by Robert Ryan) who has no opposition from the drunken sheriff (played by Dean Jagger). Smith and his henchmen Pete (played by John Ericson); Coley (played by Ernest Borgnine) and Hector (played by Lee Marvin) try to drive MacReedy away but to no avail. He finally finds help from Doc Viele (played by Walter Brennan) and Pete's sister Elizabeth (played by the gorgeous Anne Francis). MacReedy learns that something terrible happened involving Komoko at the beginning of the war, but everyone is afraid to talk for fear of Reno Smith.

     Why is MacReedy looking for a Japanese who disappeared during the war? And what is the town's secret about him? The answer might surprise you.

      This film is one of my favorite mystery dramas, and many others agree. In 1955, it was nominated for three Academy Awards. Ironically, the winning film that year also featured Ernest Borgnine. (That film was called Marty, and was really more of a chick-flick). Bad Day at Black Rock also doubled its production costs, making it one of the most profitable films of the 1950s. 

      It's noir atmosphere, a lone hero fighting for justice, and Anne Francis as a damsel in distress---that's worth ✫✫✫✫ four stars easily.


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