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John Sturges
Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine
Writing Credits:
Millard Kaufman

A stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 81 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 1/17/2016

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Bad Day At Black Rock [Blu-Ray] (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 18, 2017)

From director John Sturges, 1955’s Bad Day at Black Rock brings us a thriller set in an isolated part of the American southwest. Late in 1945, mysterious stranger John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) arrives in the small town of Black Rock.

Macreedy doesn’t come to see the sights, however. Instead, he visits Black Rock with a particular purpose, one that threatens to expose a secret. Macreedy meets resistance but pushes ahead with his mission – and moves toward probable violent confrontation with the locals.

A look at most descriptions of Day discuss it as a thriller, which it is – but I think it best fits into the Western genre. With its title and setting, it already seems like it’ll be part of that domain, and I can’t find a whole lot about the movie itself that doesn’t fit the Western template.

Though some film noir flavor mixes in as well, and these elements give Day a lot of energy – literally at times. The film’s opening credits focus on a train as it barrels toward Black Rock, and as presented by Sturges, this sets up the tale as one of action and intrigue.

Not that I ever expected to see Spencer Tracy as a Western hero. Generally mild-mannered in his film roles, Tracy seems like an unlikely action star – and for the most part, Day keeps Macreedy low-key. However, the film does allow him to show his muscle, and those moments add spark to the proceedings.

Day is more of a slow burn than anything else, though, especially in the way it evolves its main narrative. The story keeps Macreedy’s purpose vague through much of its running time, a conceit that works well.

That’s because we make our own assumptions without a lot of leading material from the on-screen events. When the movie revealed Macreedy’s original mission, I admit it took me by surprise, and I like that the flick kept me guessing.

Day seems a bit less vague when it comes to the motives of the locals, as it soon becomes clear they hide something bad – and we also quickly figure out what they did, if not why. While I’d like a little more mystery on this side of the tale, I can’t complain, as the movie still keeps things tense and taut.

All of this makes for a concise, professional little Western thriller. At a mere 81 minutes, Day moves at a good pace and keeps us with it. Thrown in fine acting from a strong cast and Day becomes a winner.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Bad Day At Black Rock appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image held up pretty well over the last 60-plus years.

For the most part, sharpness worked fine. A few slightly soft shots emerged – a factor exacerbated by some process photography – but overall delineation seemed positive. I saw no signs of shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes remained absent. I also witnessed no print flaws, though a couple of moments suffered from excessive grain.

Given the desert setting, I expected an arid palette, and that’s mainly what the film provided. Despite the sandy orientation, the movie came with a reasonable array of tones, and it displayed these pretty well. Skin tones could veer toward the brown side, but the hues still looked fine most of the time.

Blacks showed good depth, with a nice sense of darkness. Shadows also offered pleasing clarity and range. Largely due to aspects of the aging source, the image could be a little spotty, but I felt happy with it as a whole.

In addition, the DTS-HD MA stereo soundtrack of Bad Day seemed quite good, especially given the film’s vintage. Apparently the original four-track audio got lost over the years, but the stereo representation worked well.

Music showed nice breadth across the channels, and effects offered some useful information. A few active scenes – trains, cars – moved across the speakers in a suitable manner, and some general effects provided appropriate placement. Localized speech occasionally seemed iffy, but the lines usually landed where they needed to be.

Audio quality appeared positive. Music fared best, as the score was vivid and full. Effects varied but usually seemed concise and accurate enough, while dialogue came across with reasonable clarity. All in all, the mix satisfied.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc includes an audio commentary from film historian Dana Polan. He provides a running, screen-specific look at story and characters, themes and interpretation, motifs and genre issues, and related topics.

Polan tells us little about the production itself, which I view as a disappointment. While I enjoy film interpretation of the sort he provides, I prefer commentaries that throw in movie-making facts as well. Though Polan offers a fairly interesting chat, it lacks a lot of scope.

A combination of Western and thriller, Bad Day At Black Rock delivers a compelling experience. The movie boasts solid acting and pacing, as it moves well to create a vivid tale. The Blu-ray brings us pretty good picture and audio as well as a generally interesting commentary. Bad Day functions as a lively film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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