BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

From the time John J. Macreedy 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 Kamoko, he touches a nerve so sensitive that he will spend the next 24 hours fighting for his life. According to director John Sturges’ commentary track on the Criterion laserdisc, this film was also shot simultaneously in a standard 4:3 ratio version (as well as CinemaScope), because MGM executives were unsure of the wide-screen version. It was never released. The opening shot with the train was added after preview audiences did not like the original version. The sequence was created by filming with a helicopter flying away from the train and running the film backwards. (Source – audio commentary by John Sturges on Criterion laserdisc.) The projectionist’s records have revealed that over the years this has become one of the most frequently shown films in the screening room of The White House. According to one biographer of Spencer Tracy, the script did not originally call for the lead character to be a one-armed man. The producers were keen to get Tracy but didn’t think he’d be interested, so they gave the character this disability with the idea that no actor can resist playing a character with a physical impairment. Don Siegel called the screenplay the best one he had ever read (to that point) and lobbied unsuccessfully to direct the film. In the original short story, MacReedy brandishes a Beretta and brags of his prowess with it, but in the movie, he uses judo – an idea meant to suggest that MacReedy is Japanese-American. The sign behind the hotel desk is a quote from English evangelist John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

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