John Sturges' Bad Day At Black Rock is a tight, fast-paced mystery/thriller that tells the story of John J Macreedy, a mysterious one-armed stranger, who arrives by train into the small, dusty, backwater Arizona town. On his arrival, Macreedy heads to the local inn where he asks for the address of a Mr. Komoko. From that moment on, Macreedy is met with nothing but inhospitality by nearly every member of the town, picked on at every turn by henchman of Reno Smith, a cool, calm demeanored man who clearly owns most of the town's land and business. I'm not sure there is a better example of pacing than Bad Day At Black Rock, a film that starts fast and never wavers. Even the opening sequence to the film is photographed with visceral energy, a simple sequence of a train heading through the barren desert landscape which is shot with such energy and vigor, giving the impression that this train is barreling down on the small town, creating a sense of intrigue and mystery from the opening frame. Bad Day at Black Rock is lean and mean, so tightly paced that I really can't think of a single moment that feels superfluous or unnecessary. Relying almost entirely on dialogue, Bad Day and Black Rock features a host of memorable performances by actors such as Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Ernest Borgine, each of which effectively chews the scenery up as members of this small town, eatch of which seeing nothing but the worst possibilities from John J. Macreedy's arrival. Featuring very litlte action, Bad Day At Black Rock relies heavily on intrigue, essentially teasing the viewer for much of its running time, making it clear that the men who occupy this small town have something to hid, but only hinting at what this is, which in turn makes Bad Day At Black Rock one of cinema's great teases. While the script and performances are all around strong, what makes Bad Day At Block Rock so special is its ability to capture the absolute absurdity of xenophobia through this small town culture. This is a film that beautifully exhibits the destructive nature of group think, exhibiting how small town communities close in on themselves, expressing almost a tribal mentality of ugliness which effectively alienates and creates villians of anyone from the outside, stupidly declaring that they simply don't belong. One of the my favorite aspects of this entire film is the decision by the filmmakers to give John C. Macreedy a deformation, with his lack of a left arm making him different and something which the small community can focus on. Macreedy severed limb is essentially a symbolic representation of xenophobia and racism, with the various members of the small town focusing in on this deformity, acknowledging this flaw, picking at it much to the chagrin of Macreedy, using it as a crux to define why Macreedy himself doesn't belong. While one can't argue that Bad Day on Black Rock wears its message on its sleeve, this is a film that is lean and mean, being both a tense mystery/thriller full of strong character acting and a sharp dialogue, as well as an important film about the shortcomings and absurdity of xenophobia.
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