16 July 2010

Bad Day at Black Rock

For a movie made in the 1950s, this sure has a lot of aggressive tension in it. It wraps up a little too fast, as films often did in that era, but the slow powderkeg build getting up to it, starting approximately six minutes into the film when the train finally stops and not letting up until the final confrontation about six minutes from the end, feels like a precursor to Straw Dogs, and that's saying something. Spencer Tracy is so inactive, even reactive, for a classical protagonist, and the length they go to keep us in the dark about his true motivations feels like a bold move, leaning on the morally ambiguous side of the fence. Even though you're pretty sure you could guess (and in the end it's just like you'd imagine), there's a good deal of ambiguity in not knowing just how pacifist this wounded war vet really is. The whole time, from beginning to end, you're waiting to see everyone blow up, and you're feeling just as flummoxed and disgusted with the tiny town as Macreedy himself.

Surprisingly visceral for its era! But then again, I did just recently see Bigger Than Life, so maybe the 1950s just have an undeserved and inaccurate reputation for pulling punches. Because like I said, the end is quick but the rest of it leaves me anxious, with the real feeling that violence is just around the corner, not to mention a shadow in everyone's past.

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