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on 1 February 2012
Black Rock seems less a place than a mirage shimmering in the desert, conjured from sub-conscious guilt over a four-year-old crime that still holds its inhabitants in thrall. Until a stranger alights from the Streamliner express - that doesn't usually stop here - and asks the way to Adobe Flats. John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) is more than a stranger. In this Western environment he's practically an alien in his dark business-suit and with a 'dead' left arm that adds a sinister touch. He's looking for Joe Kamoko, an old Japanese farmer resident in these parts. But Kamoko seems to have disappeared long since and no one wants to talk about it. Black Rock effectively closes up against Macreedy. He's refused a room at the hotel so simply picks one for himself. He's a man with a mission, as we gradually learn, and not to be discouraged. During World War II, recently ended, Kamoko's son had saved Mac's life at the cost of his own as one of the Nisei, the special unit of Japanese-Americans serving with the Allies. His action won him a posthumous medal and Mac wants to pass it on to the old man. He hires a jeep and drives to Adobe Flats where he finds a burnt-down house and an unmarked grave (wild flowers growing on it.) He's forced off the road by Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine), one of a faction led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), the local Mr. Big, who begin a campaign of harassment against the stranger. No one seems to get him mad which puzzles and frustrates them. But back in town a pivotal moment comes in the diner when Coley crosses the line and Mac unleashes a secret weapon that literally floors his opponent - karate. The gloves are off.

Macreedy's triumph garners him some allies in the community - the local doc (Walter Brennan) is roused from his apathy and the dipso-sheriff (Dean Jagger), regarded as a joke, starts acting like a lawman. But it's not enough.. Mac learns that Kamoko had been murdered by Smith and his goons in a drunken outburst following news of the Pearl Harbour attack and Smith's rejection for military service. With Black Rock now sealed off against outside help Mac's new friends try to smuggle him out of town to contact the police but he's led into a trap by Reno's girlfriend (Anne Francis), the only female in the cast and there seemingly just for that reason. (Smith promptly shoots her after she's served her rather glib purpose). Cornered, Mac has to improvise a petrol-bomb against Reno's lethal ambush though its fiery climax has to be given to a stuntman. The UK censor practically gutted this scene when first shown.

Director Sturges uses the CinemaScope screen to great effect particularly when the plotters are pacing about in the centre of town figuring what to do about the stranger (Lee Marvin is one of them). One or two scenes though are left dangling in mid-air. When Mac is forced off the road down a gully we're not shown exactly how, with one arm, he gets back on track. (Too tricky I suppose). And Sturges' fondness for acrobatics-in-action slightly over-eggs the karate encounter which ends in a gymnastic flourish. Andre Previn's arresting score forward-drives on a journey into uncertainty though Millard Kaufman's smashing script carries a line (not his, I trust) you wish it didn't. "I don't think there can be many places like this in America," Mac declares after learning the truth. I know Hollywood had to watch its step in the McCarthy era, don't criticise the country and all that. But to marginalise racial conflict to just far-flung hamlets - particularly in 1945 - fools no one in the world let alone America. With the bad-guys in custody and the Streamliner stopping for a second time to whisk Mac away the doc asks if the town can have the medal as a lesson for the future. All well and good, it's symbolic, it's a movie and a very potent one. But there are Black Rocks all over, large and small. It is not, finally, a mirage.
I should perhaps confirm that the item purchased was the original Turner Entertainment edition with commentary. Robert Wagner does not appear. Bad Day at Amazon ?
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on 5 December 2002
Spencer Tracy plays one-armed officer in retirement who comes to a little town
Black Rock after the Second World war.Tracy is going to find out what happened
to the his friend's father - japanese emigrant who lived in Black Rock.
He soon understands that he is quite unwellcome and even in danger.
But of course nothing will stop him ... . The story takes your attention
from the first minutes till the final scene of the film. Spencer Tracy
is simple and GREATE, this is one of his best roles, and supporting actors are
also excellent. Kathrine Hepburn remembers in her book "ME" that she was deeply
impressed by Spencer Tracy's work in this film - how natural , simple and convincing
he is. "Bad Day at Black Rock" is one of the films that will never be outdated.
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on 3 March 2014
I was worried about this being a Korean import but i shouldnt have done,the picture is crisp clear,the sound is a little low but nothing worth not getting it for,Ive been wanting this movie for years after video became"no more!!".Crisp clear visual,im beyond happy.Spencer Tracy pulls into a town with a hidden secret.The train,never,arrives at Black Rock,but it does this day to everyones surprise.He turns up to hostility and mistrust and rightly so,as the folks of Black Rock have got a secret theyve been hiding.made in 1954 and set in 1945 as the War finishes,Tracy is looking for someone,but where-ever he turns there is trouble,from Ernest Borgnines heavy,to Lee Marvins provocation,theres many a familiar face here.Robert Ryan,Dean Jagger and Walter Brennan amongst others.This really works and has stood the test of time as a pot boiler,with several surprises and the fact that Tracey has only one arm is a surprise and not just for "Borgnine?".this is a classic in every way...enjoy.
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This film represents the finest hour for that Hollywood veteran director John Sturges. It is far superior to his "The Magnificent Seven" which relied heavily on uniquely skilled, one dimensional, stereo type characters. A film that had such an influence on that demented period of the Italian Western. This film is a very superior contemporary western that has elements of the film noir. Made over fifty years ago it does not look contemporary now, but is still a very handsome film to look at, and has a wonderful fifties feel to it that would be hard to replicate now.

Spencer Tracy plays a one armed second world war veteran on a mission to find the Japanese/American Father of the war hero who died saving his life during the Italian campaign, and to hand him his sons medal. He stops at the small one horse town of Black Rock in the desert but finds that the Father has mysteriously disappeared. He is met with open hostility by most of the townsfolk, especially in the form of Robert Ryan and his menacing henchman. But slowly due to dogged persistence he begins to uncover the grim truth. Tracy heads to an inevitable showdown with Ryan and his thugs.

The film boasts a very fine ensemble cast with possibly the best team of heavies to have ever graced the screen. Robert Ryan was always excellent as a villain. I recall him being especially good in "The Naked Spur". Ernest Borgnine provides another classic example of his pot bellied bully and Lee Marvin exudes menace with his mere presence. Sterling support is provided by Walter Brennan as a sympathetic Doctor and Dean Jagger as the drunken town marshall who turns a blind eye. All worth the admission fee alone.

The film has been compared with "High Noon" with its inherent liberal sentiments. It tackles the big subject of racial hatred and prejudice. Tracy with his one arm can relate to this. Similar themes were explored in Wellman's "The Ox Bow Incident", although the lynch mob in that film regret their actions, unlike the heavies of this film who have no remorse. The films influence can still be felt today in the way its title has fallen into everyday American slang. I must be one of the few in England to use it. Another bad habit picked up by watching too many movies.

This is a well acted and well crafted movie. It still looks good today and the time spent watching it passes all to quickly. We really, really don't get so many actors of this quality in one film any more. One last point of interest is that Black Rock consisted of a purpose built set of which nothing now remains, just the tumbleweeds. But what does remain is this fine film. Highly recommended.
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on 27 July 2004
Spencer Tracy's best film, playing the one-armed stranger. The supporting cast of Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine are utterly convincing. You can almost smell their fear as they strive to bully - then kill - the unwelcome intruder.
For me, Robert Ryan steals the film. His performance oozes a guilt which he strives to justify with speech after speech of nauseating jingoism. He proves true the phrase: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'.
Borgnine and Marvin play standard goons but with a genuine gusto.
Even the lesser rôles are filled with character. Note Tracy's drab but hilarious conversation with the unnamed canteen owner: 'We got chilli with beans and chilli without beans'...'Hmm. What if you don't like chilli?'...'Well, that's what they made ketchup for.' Pure poetry. Shakespeare couldn't better that.
Great stuff.
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on 28 May 2015
Crisp clear colour & sound, not to mention great movie.
However, DVD cover has both English & Korean writing on & when I came to play the movie it had Korean subtitles. There was a subtitle 'off' option on the menu which I chose but when I returned to playing the movie, the subtitles came back on by default. I tried this several times but gave up in the end.
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on 7 August 2011
Almost from the first moment, the underlying tension and prospect of violence is palpable. A stranger (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train to find the father of his world war II Japanese-American `comrade in arms'. The war has ended. The stranger's war wound becomes significant. The sneering reactions from the male townsfolk suggest hostility towards the Japanese because of the attack on Pearl Harbour. The central protagonist in the town (a suitably sinister Robert Ryan) does his best to thwart the stranger's search for his friend's father. Violence does erupt. It is understated; pure in execution and result. The film moves to a suitable climax. As with `A History of Violence', less is more! Modern film makers might heed the lesson!

Ian Hunter.
Author of The Early Years.

P.S. Amazon's title for this film review is wrong. Robert Wagner is not in this movie. It is Robert Ryan!
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This film represents the finest hour for that Hollywood veteran director John Sturges. It is far superior to his "The Magnificent Seven" which relied heavily on uniquely skilled, one dimensional, stereo type characters. A film that had such an influence on that demented period of the Italian Western. This film is a fascinating contemporary western that has elements of the film noir. Made over fifty years ago it does not look contemporary now, but is still a very handsome film to look at, and has a wonderful fifties feel to it that would be hard to replicate now.

Spencer Tracy plays a one armed second world war veteran on a mission to find the Japanese/American Father of the war hero who died saving his life during the Italian campaign, and to hand him his sons medal. He stops at the small one horse town of Black Rock in the desert but finds that the Father has mysteriously disappeared. He is met with open hostility by most of the townsfolk especially in the form of Robert Ryan and his menacing henchman. But slowly due to dogged persistence he begins to uncover the grim truth. Tracy heads to an inevitable showdown with Ryan and his thugs.

The film boasts a very fine ensemble cast with possibly the best team of heavies to have ever graced the screen. Robert Ryan was always excellent as a villain. I recall him being especially good in "The Naked Spur". Ernest Borgnine provides another classic example of his pot bellied bully and Lee Marvin exudes menace with his mere presence. Sterling support is provided by Walter Brennan as a sympathetic Doctor and Dean Jagger as the drunken town marshall who turns a blind eye. All worth the admission fee alone.

The film has been compared with "High Noon" with its inherent liberal sentiments. It tackles the big subject of racial hatred and prejudice. Tracy with his one arm can relate to this. Similar themes were explored in Wellman's "The Ox Bow Incident", although the lynch mob in that film regret their actions, unlike the heavies of this film who have no remorse. The films influence can still be felt today in the way its title has fallen into everyday American slang. I must be one of the few in England to use it. Another bad habit picked up by watching too many movies.

This is a well acted and well crafted movie. It still looks good today and the time spent watching it passes all to quickly. We really, really don't get so many actors of this quality in one film any more. One last point of interest is that Black Rock consisted of a purpose built set of which nothing now remains, just the tumbleweeds. But what does remain is this fine film. Why oh why is this film not easily available on Region 2. I cannot unfortunately vouch for the quality of this foreign imported DVD, only the quality of the film. Highly recommended.
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on 30 October 2013
If you like Spencer Tracy, you will like this film. But the idea of an aged one-armed avenger taking on the likes of Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine stretches the imagination beyond plausibility. You want the good man to succeed against the odds - and he does. Taking on an entire community with only a few redeeming features in Walter Brennan and Ann Francis is above and beyond the call of duty. But Tracy measures up to it almost with indifference. This is a western with a modern setting, and the fact that it is a quest for the truth makes it watchable. I enjoyed the interplay between Tracy and the villains. Unfortunately the latter were stereotyped to the point of being ludicrous. What might the hero have achieved with both arms is an interesting consideration.
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on 6 December 2010
There is a story that the head of the studio that made this film wanted to pull the plug on it because he thought it subversive.

He was right. It subverts a number of genres: it is a western without any horses; a war story thousands of miles from the front line; a thriller like a ghost story; a film noir set in the desert. But most subversive of all, at the core of the film it is about the consequences of racism, most specifically anti-Japanese racism, and how that racism is often dressed up as patriotism.

The film takes the form, popular in US and Japanese cinema, of the stranger arriving into town as a catalyst for the unfolding story. Spencer Tracy delivers one of his most iconic performances as the stranger, a brave man, but one who has seen too much violence already not to appreciate that, when faced with insurmountable odds, discretion is the better part of valour. Robert Ryan is brilliantly terrifying as the charming thug who dominates the town. Walter Brennan provides some light relief as the town undertaker and vet in the midst of a spare and nightmarish story.

The film must still be regarded as deeply subversive to those "heartland" Americans for whom ignorance and provincialism are regarded as virtues. The outsider played by Tracy asserts a different sort of Americanism, a cosmopolitan, progressive and principled one, and is hated and feared as a result.

For Trivial Pursuit and pub quiz afficianados: the film is said to be the first American film to portray the use of eastern martial arts when Tracy's character comes to a point at which he is driven to fight in self-defense, and displays a surprising propensity for karate, the Japanese martial art.
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