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Film / Bad Day at Black Rock

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"Four years ago, something terrible happened here."

A classic 1955 thriller (with some Film Noir and New Old West elements) directed by John Sturges and starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, and Lee Marvin. It's based on Howard Breslin's short story "Bad Time at Honda".

From the time one-armed veteran John J. Macreedy (Tracy) steps off the train in Black Rock, he feels a chill from the local residents. The town is only a speck on the map and few if any strangers ever come to the place. Macreedy himself is tight-lipped about the purpose of his trip and he finds that the hotel refuses him a room, the local garage refuses to rent him a car and the sheriff is a useless drunkard. It's apparent that the locals have something to hide but when he finally tells them that he is there to speak to a Japanese-American farmer named Komoko, he touches a nerve so sensitive that he will spend the next 24 hours fighting for his life.

Not to be confused with The A-Team episode "Black Day at Bad Rock".

Bad Day at Black Rock contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: For the time it was made, yes.
  • The Alcoholic: The Sheriff
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "What happened to Komoko?"
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: "Komoko" is not an actual Japanese name. And if it was, it would be a female name.note 
  • Bookends: The movie starts with Macreedy arriving at Black Rock by train and it ends with him leaving the same way.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: It's established that Macreedy knows how to handle a jeep because of his experience in the army. This knowledge comes in handy later when building the Molotov Cocktail.
  • City Slicker: Macreedy has shades of this, though he's too smart for them.
  • Closed Circle: Macreedy is trapped in Black Rock. He notes that any attempt to leave would have him shot.
  • Cool Train: The Southern Pacific "Black Widow" F7's during the opening sequence.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Reno has the phone lines cut so that Macreedy can't inform the police.
  • Diner Brawl: Macreedy wipes the floor with Coley Trimble despite having only one usable arm.
  • The Drifter: Macreedy actually has a specific reason for coming to Black Rock, but once he is there, everything plays out typically for this trope.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Bad Day at Black Rock.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Reno is nice to Macreedy in the beginning.
  • Frontier Doctor: Doc Velie.
  • Give Me a Reason: Macreedy reasons that Reno and his thugs are only looking for an excuse to kill him, e.g. when Coley tries to provoke him at the diner.
  • Gold Fever: The Frontier Doctor tells a story about the prospectors 'round these parts in the old days.
  • Gun Twirling: Hector gives us a taste of his skills.
  • Handicapped Badass: John J. Macreedy, who lost an arm in the war.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pete Wirth, along with a few others.
  • Improvised Weapon: The fire hose and the Molotov Cocktail.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: Reno rips off the sheriff's star and hands it to Hector.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Macreedy mentions Komoko to the sheriff, the sheriff is startled enough he knocks something over on his desk. When Macreedy is able to catch it before it falls over, the sheriff says, "You move pretty fast for a crimp-", until he notices Macreedy's missing arm, and he changes it to "-for a big man."
  • Leave No Witnesses: Reno eventually decides to silence everyone at Black Rock, starting with Liz. Good thing Macreedy stopped him in time.
  • Man on Fire: A karmic experience for Reno, being set on fire at Komoko's place.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Macreedy makes one during the final fight, using his tie as the fuse.
  • New Old West: The film is set in a Western "cowboy" town that, for all its isolation, has by the 1940s managed to acquire such modern technologies as rental cars, telephones and streamlined trains. The pseudo-drifter protagonist served in World War II, and the anti-Japanese racism of the era is an important theme.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: John Sturges admitted Spencer Tracy’s double during the fight looks nothing like him but says that’s not important - "You stage and cut the scene so that you’re always looking at the other fellow". Tracy wouldn’t take part in fight scenes because he would get too carried away and had knocked teeth out before.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Pete the clerk at the hotel tries to tell Macreedy that because of the government compliance and the rooms being held for out-of-town cowboys, he can't rent him a room even though the hotel has plenty of vacancies. Macreedy's having none of that.
  • Police Are Useless: The sheriff is a useless drunkard; mostly as a result of his guilt regarding the dark secret of his town.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Smith is notoriously racist toward Japanese in general, so it is no surprise that he was the one behind Komoko's murder.
    Smith: Loyal Japanese-Americans, that's a laugh. They're all mad dogs. What about Corregidor, the death march?
    Macreedy: What did Komoko have to do with Corregidor?
    Smith: He was a Jap, wasn't he?
  • Posthumous Character: Komoko. His fate unravels bit by bit.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: When Spencer Tracy saw the rushes, he thought the fight was preposterous. He didn't believe his character could disable his enemy that quickly and easily until John Sturges showed the footage to a Marine instructor who not only confirmed the effectiveness of the karate method but told Tracy the blow as executed would have killed his opponent in real life.
  • Retired Badass: Macreedy.
  • Revenge by Proxy: This was part of Smith's motive for murdering Komoko, which was motivated by his racism toward Japanese in general. The other part was Smith's jealousy toward Komoko for making the farmland he sold the man prosper by digging a sixty-foot well.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Liz Wirth helps Macreedy escape from town in her jeep, only to drive him straight into an ambush set by Reno Smith. Smith then shoots her in the back as part of his plan to silence his old accomplices.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The entire conflict of the movie could have been avoided if not for the town residents' paranoia. Macreedy had nothing to do with anything, he simply wanted to give his friend's father his medal. All Reno and his crew had to do was be polite and tell Macreedy that Komoko passed away several years ago, and his house burnt down in a brushfire some time later, and no one really goes to Adobe Flats which is why his grave marker never got replaced, or say that Komoko moved and didn't keep in touch about where he was going. Macreedy would have been disappointed but none the wiser and taken the next train to LA. By acting like crazy people for no obvious reason and attempting to drive him off, they clued Macreedy in that something was wrong.
  • The Sheriff: Who has become a drunkard because of the dark secret he's involved in.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Remo Smith is the leader of the town's bullies and rules it with an iron fist. Considering that he has demonstrated he is okay with murder, it's no wonder the sheriff prefers to keep himself safe in the bottom of a liquor bottle.
  • Stealth Insult: When he gets to the hotel, one of the cowboys says "You look like you need a hand." It's not lost on Macreedy.
  • Stupid Evil: The villains would have literally gotten away with murder if they had just been a whole lot less confrontational to Macreedy.
  • Tap on the Head: Hector goes out after a smack with the hose nozzle.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: The irony of Reno ending up on fire at Komoko's place.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The cover-up of Komoko's death. One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Undertaker: Doc Velie. Since he's one of the few townspeople to side with Macreedy, he's a rare instance of a heroic Western undertaker.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The scene cuts off before Doc Velie can reveal his plan to help Macreedy escape. Of course things work out as planned ... until Liz Wirth pulls over at Komoko's place.
  • Untrusting Community: The people of Black Rock meet the protagonist with hostility in an attempt to scare him away.
  • Vehicular Assault: Coley gives Macreedy a good scare when bumping into his car from behind.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Hector rips the distributor cap and spark plug wires out of Velie's hearse to stop Macreedy leaving town.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Isolated from the law and civilization, the town of Black Rock can ignore the manslaughter of Komoko. It’s partly why they’re all terrified of Macreedy: many of them can’t admit to themselves they did something wrong, much less to the authorities. The Doc also notes it’s why Reno’s team choose to kill Macreedy at night. Committing the deed in broad daylight would make it too real for themselves.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Although the exact location of the title town is never mentioned in the film, Millard Kaufman specified in his screenplay that it was in the desert 156 miles from Phoenix and 211 miles from Los Angeles.