DOM: Bad Day At Black Rock (Sturges, US, 1955)

In July 2012, one of the last of the last, Ernest Borgnine died aged 95, he was one of the great character actors of the 50s who came to prominence in “From Here To Eternity” for beating up Frank Sinatra and became typecast as a heavy until his Oscar winning turn in Delbert Mann’s “Marty”, in which he plays a butcher in his 30s who has not married yet, whilst the rest of his younger brothers and sisters have all flown the nest. He was never again typecast and throughout the remainder of the 50s and 60s made such films as “The Vikings” (playing Kirk Douglas’s father, even though he was only two years older than Kirk), “The Wild Bunch”, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Poseidon Adventure” and in the late 70s and 80s came to newer audiences via “Convoy”, “The Black Hole”, “Escape From New York” and on TV as Dominic Santini in “Airwolf”. During the 80s, for a brief period I was known as Dominic Santini, it made a refreshing change from Domino Rally Action Alley!. All that said, I have chosen to remember him as the heavy thug, Coley Trimble, in John Sturges “Bad Day At Black Rock” made the same year as “Marty”.

The year is 1945 and the war has ended, a train pulls into a small station a conductor gets off and says “first time this train has stopped here in four years”, a one armed man, John J Macready (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train and tells the conductor that he will only be here for one day, the conductor replies “In a place like this, that could be a lifetime”.

He asks where he can get a cab to a place called Adobe Flat, he is told no cabs. He finds the local sheriff, Tim Horn (Dean Jagger) is also the town drunk and scared of the town’s dark secret. As he runs into Lee Marvin, Walter Brennan and Ernest Borgnine   all won’t or are too scared to help for fear of what Robert Ryan will do. Macready eventually manages to hire a jeep from the only female of the town (Anne Francis) , he tells her he wants to see a local farmer named Kumoko, his son died in the war and he has a medal for him, she hires him the jeep and he is run off the road by Borgnine, it becomes apparent that after Pearl Harbor something happened to this Japanese farmer.

If you turn on a TV on a bank holiday, chances are that a John Sturges film will be on one channel (Gunfight At The OK Corral, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Eagle Has Landed, The Law & Jake Wade, Last Train From Gun Hill, Hour Of The Gun, Ice Station Zebra, Joe Kidd, McQ, Chino etc), but never again to he achieve the tension he did here for a brief, but brilliant 81 minutes. He successfully manages to update the western and give it a war background, two genres he began to specialize in.

I remember seeing this first on BBC-2 in late 1990 at 6pm, I checked it out in Halliwell’s and it got four stars, I was hooked from the start and from then on for about five years I began checking every film on TV and never missing a four star film again.

A couple of years later it was shown on Channel 4 in it’s full scope ratio and it seemed a completely different film, what a shame then that it isn’t available on DVD in this country, but it does still crop up on TV, so catch it next time it is on and you won’t regret it, right from that brilliant opening shot of the express train speeding along (thanks to cinematographer William C Mellor, best remembered for A Place In The Sun, Giant and The Diary Of Anne Frank) to the fantastic music of Andre Previn.

US Release 07/01/1955

One response to “DOM: Bad Day At Black Rock (Sturges, US, 1955)

  1. Pingback: Friday Five: Ernest Borgnine « Dirk Malcolm's World of Film·

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