There are so many reasons why BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955),  a seemingly simple tale of a one-armed WW II veteran (a phenomenal Spencer Tracy) who mysteriously arrives at a sparsely occupied town and is confronted with life-threatening violence is on my ten best list of the greatest films of all time. First and foremost is the fact that this taut and powerful film allows some of the finest actors ever assembled in one film (Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, John Ericson, Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger, etc.) to strut their stuff in an uncommonly striking manner. Indeed one of the greatest movie-going pleasures I've ever experienced is the sublime thrill of watching the terrific Ryan become one of the very few male stars who could confidently hold his own with Tracy, arguably the finest of all film actors. The scenes that these two giants share with each other are so superbly acted and so full of subtle revelation that one is sorely tempted to press the "repeat" button again and again.

Obviously the fact that Millard Kaufman's screenplay minces no words in its graphic depiction of deep and insidious prejudice is a major contribution to its success, but the fact that John Sturges directs it with such economy and visual superiority is probably the most important part of the equation. One can only guess what powers of persuasion it took for Sturges to convince MGM to film this extremely intimate tale in CinemaScope, a widescreen process hitherto utilized primarily for massive costume epics and splashy musicals, but his sense of framing is such that every shot accentuates the dusty isolation of the town and the characters that populate it. His command of the widescreen image is nothing less than revolutionary, so much so that with this film he singlehandedly validated the CinemaScope process as a viable device for small-scale drama. 

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that (with the possible exception of Bernard Herrmann's music for Ryan's previous ON DANGEROUS GROUND) no film score before had so dynamically backed up a suspense film of this type with such bristling authority. It is without question composer Andre Previn's finest hour and becomes the heart, soul and conscience of this cinematic masterpiece.

In comparing the anamorphic Eastman Color transfer of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK with its recent anamorphic airing on the HDNet I found the color on the dvd to be far richer, but the HDNet's aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is correct while the dvd seems to feature a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with some information missing on one side of the image, and though Previn's powerhouse score sounds terrific I would have loved to hear it even more in a similar Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo reconstruction that was recently lavished on Warner's exemplary release of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME


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