January 26th: Guess Who’s Coming to Town?


35. Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges, 1955)


Spencer Tracy embodies everything I envisage to be good about America. He is a superb watch in any film, I’d never go as far as to say that he was a great actor in the classical sense but, instead, I find him to represent a set of ideals that in him crystallize the strength, humility and progress of America in the time that he was acting. If you don’t believe me or aren’t aware of the man then watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner where Tracy’s character embodies the struggling but open-minded and progressive white middle-class man, determined to overcome his own prejudices. Or watch Bad Day at Black Rock.

At 81 minutes Bad Day at Black Rock is a snip of a film by modern standards but it’s a simple story told in a lean, economical fashion – it needn’t last any longer. It’s a simple set-up; John J. Macreedy arrives in the small town of Black Rock to meet someone. He has 24 hours before the next train. During that one day Macreedy unravels the terrible secret kept by the people of Black Rock and in doing so he hints at some of the awful prejudices of wartime America and the mistreatment of immigrants during that time. But I don’t want to spoil it. Watch Bad Day at Black Rock, it won’t take much of your time but it is an effective thriller with solid message at its heart.

But hang on a minute. Don’t watch the version currently being shown on TCM. Because it’s been ‘pan & scanned’. It is quite the most annoying way of displaying a film because you only really get to see a portion of the screen at any one time. It’s the method used for people who get whiny about the black bars when a film is ‘letterboxed’ for widescreen presentation but it bloody ruins the experience in my opinion. For a pretty good demonstration of what’s happening in a pan and scan, and how much you’re missing have a look at this. Bollocks frankly (though possibly worth it if you’re being forced to watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers).