Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

In John Sturges' suspenseful, powerful, 50's, Western-like drama and modern-day film-noirish mystery-thriller, a masterpiece about racial prejudice (and a harsh comment upon Hollywood's blacklist and the McCarthy years) - it was set in an isolated, southwestern desert town in 1945; scriptwriter Millard Kaufman based the film adaptation upon American novelist Howard Breslin's late 1946 short story "Bad Time at Honda" first published in The American Magazine (January 1947):

  • in the stunning opening credits sequence - the Streamliner diesel train raced across the arid desert before making an unusual stop at Black Rock, AZ's train station - the first time the train had ever stopped in the tiny isolated town in four years
  • a well-dressed, mysterious one-armed stranger named John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) entered into the hostile, uncooperative, and claustrophobic Western town, and quickly realized he was unwelcome by the few citizens found there
  • as the story progressed, it was revealed that Macreedy had come to fulfill his civic responsibility and a personal promise that he had made to a Japanese-American soldier who died fighting in WW II. He was searching for the whereabouts of the local Japanese-American father, Komoko, of his soldier/friend Joe who had saved his life during the war in Italy, to bestow the deceased man's posthumously-presented medal of honor to the family. After encountering mostly a conspiracy of silence, he learned that the farmer Komoko had died after facing internment by the US government
  • Macreedy rented a jeep and drove to nearby Adobe Flat to locate the Japanese family's leased homestead, and found evidence that it had burned to the ground. He began to suspect that a deadly incident four years earlier had occurred - the murder of Komoko at his homestead by prejudiced townsfolk
  • as Macreedy left Adobe Flat, racially-bigoted thug Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) made a daredevil pursuit of Macreedy's Jeep in the desert, and ran him off the road
  • in a fight scene in Sam's Bar and Grill, a greasy-spoon restaurant, the taunted and fed-up Macreedy, who was called "a yellow-bellied Jap lover," retorted back: ("You're not only wrong, you're wrong at the top of your voice") and then subdued Coley with one swift karate-chop across the neck, and further chops to his body
Sam's Bar and Grill - Karate-Chop for Coley
  • after fighting Coley, Macreedy took the downed man's knife and confronted the menacing, sinister town boss Reno Smith (Robert Ryan): ("You killed Komoko, Smith, and sooner or later you're gonna go up for it. Not because you killed him, because I think in a town like this, you can get away with it. But because you didn't have guts enough to do it alone. You put your trust in guys like this - and Hector here - not the most dependable of God's creatures. And one of these days, they're gonna catch on that you're playin' 'em for a sap. And then what are ya gonna do? Peel 'em off, one by one? And in the meantime, one of 'em's gonna crack and when they do, you're gonna go down - but hard. 'Cause they got somethin' on ya, Smith. Something to use when the goin' gets tough. (he tossed the switchblade at Smith) And it's gettin' tougher every minute")
  • eventually, some town members, including a drunken Sheriff Tim Horn (Dean Jagger), a vet/doctor and undertaker Doc Velie (Walter Brennan), and Liz Wirth (Anne Francis) became the stranger's allies
  • in the fiery conclusion during a deadly night-time struggle between Macreedy and Smith and his gang members, Liz Wirth was shot in the back by Reno Smith to silence her; the infuriated Macreedy inventively created a Molotov cocktail that he tossed at Reno to incinerate him
  • as Macreedy prepared to leave Black Rock and the Streamliner's horn was heard in the distance, Doc asked him to give Komoko's medal to the whole town to remind the people of the cowardly conspiracy that nearly destroyed them, so that it might not happen again

The Arrival of Streamliner Train

One-Armed Stranger: John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy)

Coley's Pursuit of Macreedy in Jeep

Fiery Molotov Cocktail Confrontation With Reno Smith


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