Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin
Director: John Sturges
Running Time: 81 mins
Bad Day At Black Rock is an American film about a one-armed man who arrives in an isolated desert town, where the locals will do anything to hide a dark secret.
A thoroughly engaging mystery drama with a strikingly cagey atmosphere, Bad Day At Black Rock is a simple yet effective film. Its slow pace and isolated setting work wonders for its atmosphere, while a winning lead performance from Spencer Tracy gives us an endearing hero in a tale of the darkness of humanity.
The film isn’t quite the overwhelmingly eerie watch it often wants to be, perhaps lacking a more potent atmosphere. Meanwhile, it doesn’t tell the most shocking of mystery tales, meaning that despite the engaging nature of the story, the big surprises and reveals are far from spectacular.
Still, I really enjoyed Bad Day At Black Rock, and most of all because of its simple yet effectively cagey atmopshere. The film isn’t a masterwork of tension, but the isolated setting, the slow pacing and the well-plotted dialogue all go a long way to making the battle of wits that unfolds as captivating as possible.
Spencer Tracy plays a stranger who arrives in town searching for a man, while the locals find his arrival and intentions suspicious, as they seem to work to cover something up.
That something isn’t quite as mysterious or shocking as the film hopes, but the battle of wits between Tracy and the locals is absolutely enthralling. All told through patient, cleverly-paced sequences of dialogue, the conflict between the two is as unpredictable as it is surprisingly gentlemanly.
Bad Day At Black Rock leaves a lot up to the imagination, and while its biggest surprise is perhaps a little predictable, the way that the ever-souring relationship between Tracy and locals will play out is anything but.
There are some really shocking flashpoints throughout, while Tracy’s efforts to win over some of the town’s residents makes for a genuinely fascinating conflict, as do the extraordinary efforts of the locals to scare Tracy away.
The film does occasionally falter in its narrative, lacking clarity at moments as to just where some of the villagers stand on the matter, as well as occasionally bursting into life a little too abruptly.
However, Bad Day At Black Rock is for the most part a thoroughly engaging watch. With strong direction that affords the film a strikingly cagey atmosphere, bolstered by a brilliant setting and production design, it’s a captivating drama throughout, with an excellent turn from Spencer Tracy in the main role as the cherry on top. And that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.