johnlink ranks BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

This is a film I had literally never even heard a whisper about. But the description (A one handed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret) piqued my interest. Man, am I glad I stumbled across this thing!

I watched BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) on 1.29.11. It was my first viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE

This is a film which stars a bunch of great actors. They include Spencer Tracy (whom I have seen criminally little of), Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Walter Brennan. This is, by my definition anyway, the only Western Noir I can think of. This is a Western not in tone, but in location and theme (I would say it is a great Western for anyone who does not like Westerns, and I include myself in that group). It is a Noir in tone and character, even if it does not have some of the typical characteristics of the genre. Noir was wrapping up its run by 1955, so I feel safe in putting it in that Late Noir period.

Directed by MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and  GREAT ESCAPE director John Sturges, this is a relentlessly paced flick which manages to take its time and move at an incredible pace at the same exact time. From the opening shot of a train driving at the audience (a shot which no doubt would be CGId today) to a very real-feeling car chase, this thing goes full tilt. Yet the film is elevated by several pitch-perfect scenes of Spencer Tracy playing a character who knows he is on a tough path, but who’s seen too much in his life to be intimidated by any of it.

One problem that does present itself is that the camera sometimes gives a bit of a vertigo feeling. This is shot in 2.35:1, and in color. These techniques look amazing, but at times a camera pan will result in a warping, which I assume was from the lens. This is noticeable early on as the town’s dusty main road is introduced, but fades as we move on. The film gets more claustrophobic as we go anyway, and the later scenes are either unaffected by these issues, or I was too absorbed to notice them. But this problem is very minor in what is otherwise a beautifully shot picture.

The screenplay is filled with memorable lines (though some of this is thanks to the actors) and manages to be about racism without ever presenting another race in front of the camera. I put this up there with HELL IN THE PACIFIC (another Lee Marvin flick) as great post-WWII looks at Japanese-American relations.

Can’t recc0mmend this film enough. Great bunch of actors, a couple of great scenes, an unexpectedly great fight, and just and outright delight of a film!



The bonus is for a memorable score by Andre Previn. The music is very aware of its western roots, but manages to not fall into those trappings. Basically, by the time Tracy steps off the train in the first 3 minutes of this film, I had racked up a bonus point here. He perfectly sets the tone of this film in the opening, and there is no question that we are in for a great, and dangerous, ride.



~ by johnlink00 on January 29, 2011.

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