It's hard to believe that Bad Day at Black Rock was considered "subversive" by its studio M-G-M when it was being made but, ten years after the end of World War II, it was considered a hot potato, especially while its production was going on in the waning days of the McCarthy hearings. One couldn't mistake the metaphor of a town cowed by a single man who bends rules to his favor, and harasses outsiders who ask questions.
Right off the bat, one is struck by an over-earnestness that feels false. The wide-screen titles* of a train careening through the Southwest desert is backed by a semi-hysterical Andre Previn score, full of sound and fury and signifying...a train. It feels overdone and pointlessly busy.
|"No, I don't understand. But, while I'm pondering it...|
why don't you get a room ready for me..."
Tracy is reliably lived-in as the maimed vet who comes to town, but he's a shade long-in-the-tooth for the role. Robert Ryan starts subtle and ends up chewing the cactus in much the same way that Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine do their dirty work.*** Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger and Anne Francis (the only female in town) round out the cast as sycophants and victims, weak in one way or another.
|Spencer Tracy shows Ernest Borgnine what's what.|
* Can someone explain to me, for the love of Mike, why this small-scale film about a veritable ghost-town of few actors was filmed in the widest of Cinema-scopes?
** In five years that "goosing" of slow material would pay off like gang-busters with Elmer Bernstein's energetic score for The Magnificent Seven.
***Ironically, Tracy would be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar that year and lose to...Ernest Borgnine, playing the title role of Marty.