Bad Day at Black Rock
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Director John Sturges was a master of suspenseful, well-crafted westerns and action/adventure films. And Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), the story of a hate crime in a small western town, and the bullying attempts by some townspeople to keep an outsider from finding out, certainly fits comfortably into those boundaries. That it also transcends them is not surprising, given the film's history.
Bad Day at Black Rock was made at a time of professional and political upheaval in Hollywood. In 1951, Dore Schary had replaced Louis B. Mayer as head of MGM. Schary, politically liberal, produced "message pictures" reflecting his beliefs. This was the era of blacklisting, of the McCarthy witch-hunts, when even the hint of communist affiliation could destroy careers. Bad Day at Black Rock's contemporary western was the kind of allegory that Schary liked. In fact, he liked it so much that Schary himself replaced Charles Schnee as producer. Richard Brooks, no stranger to message pictures, was set to direct.
Now that the film was shaping up to be an "important" picture, Schary needed a heavyweight star to play John MacReedy, the World War II veteran who stands up to the town. He went after Spencer Tracy, who was reluctant. What finally clinched Tracy was an excellent script revision by Millard Kaufman...and Schary's lie that Alan Ladd was interested in the role.
To keep Tracy happy, Schary also replaced Brooks with John Sturges, who had directed Tracy in The People Against O'Hara (1951). Sturges brought his talent for suspense and action, his skill at choreographing violence, and his eye for casting to Bad Day at Black Rock. Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin both received career boosts from the film. Borgnine's next film, Marty(1955), won him an Oscar -- beating Tracy, who was nominated for Bad Day at Black Rock.
Bad Day at Black Rock was a commercial and critical success. Reviews at the time praised its message of civic responsibility, individual integrity, and the dangers of group complacency. Film historians now also see it as an indictment of the blacklist in Hollywood.
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Dore Schary, Herman Hoffman
Screenplay: Millard Kaufman
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Editor: Newell P. Kimlin
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Sheriff Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc T.R. Velie Jr).
C-82m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Margarita Landazuri