BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK

John Sturges, USA, 1955, 35mm, 81′

 

In the remote town of Black Rock in the middle of the Arizona desert, a train stops, and a one-armed stranger gets off. He came to deliver a medal to the father of his fallen comrade from World War II. But Komoko, an American farmer of Japanese descent, has mysteriously disappeared. Sturges’ sun-scorched study of xenophobia, racism, toxic masculinity, and collective guilt is a true early film soleil, where western and noir intersect and where Spencer Tracy, in the lead role, deals you a deadly karate blow. The harsh condemnation and pessimistic view of American culture most likely contributed to the fact that the film became a great but overlooked classic, despite its brilliant cast and Oscar nominations.

“The title may suggest a banal Western, but this was the first film to bring up the wartime outrages against Japanese-Americans (treated also in 1960 in Phil Karlson’s Hell to Eternity). The story is set in the mythical Southwestern town of Black Rock where the inhabitants are bound together by the guilty secret of their mistreatment of a Japanese farmer; on this bad day a one-armed stranger (Spencer Tracy) arrives and begins to ask questions. Though Bad Day at Black Rock is crudely melodramatic, it is a very superior example of motion picture craftsmanship. The director, John Sturges, is at his best – each movement and line is exact and economical; the cinematographer, William C. Mellor, uses CinemaScope and color with intelligent care – the compositions seem realistic, yet they have a stylized simplicity. In part because of this, when the violence erupts, it’s truly shocking.”
– Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies