Bad Day at Black Rock

January 28, 2012 5 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Rock, on important business. When he arrives in Black Rock, he isn’t welcomed, instead he is treated like an outcast, an undesired visitor. As it turns out, the train he rode on was the first one in a long time to stop in the dusty town and by turn, he is the first outsider in as much time. The locals not only don’t roll out the red carpet, they tell him to leave town and fast, unless he has a death wish. He remains firm and keeps his mission a secret, much to their collective dismay. Macreedy is greeted with such hostilities, he is even refused a room in the hotel, but that isn’t enough to make him head back. What dark secrets lurk within Black Rock and will Macreedy fulfill his mission, whatever it might be?

This has been one of the most requested titles since the dawn of DVD, but it has taken Warner almost eight years to release Bad Day at Black Rock. The movie is a classic example of how filmmakers don’t need vast special effects, over the top action sequences, or constant plot swerves to make an excellent picture. John Sturges crafts a true classic here using the most basic, but scarce elements in Hollywood, a gifted cast and a well written script, not a complex formula. Spencer Tracy was nominated for an Oscar for his superb performance, but he isn’t alone, as Lee Mavrin, Ernest Borgnine, Anne Francis, and others also turn in great efforts. This is what can happen when the focus is on story, characters, and performances. The film provides constantly increasing tension in a film noir fashion, as dread looms and secrets are buried all over the place. As the film winds ahead and reveals a little more around turn, you can’t help but be transfixed on the screen. Bad Day at Black Rock is a classic and as such, deserves our highest recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

Bad Day at Black Rock is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a more than solid treatment, but I expected a little more from this release. Warner has had some excellent restoration work done on select films, so I had hoped this would be one, but no such luck. The print is in good condition, with minimal grain and infrequent debris, but the image is on the soft side. So detail level isn’t too high and colors suffer, so hues have a rather faded, washed out presence. The contrast is on the light side also, but stable, so some polish would have been welcome here. Even so, this is better than any other version I’ve seen over the years, so while not perfect, this is a solid treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

A 2.0 surround option is included here, but don’t be fooled, as this is more like a mono mix on steroids, just a little more power at times. You will notice some surround presence, but not like we’re used to, so this is still a mono soundtrack at heart. The soundtrack is clean though, with minimal hiss and I detected little harshness, which is great news, of course. I found dialogue to be crisp and clear also, so no muffled moments or lines lost due to worn elements. So while the audio isn’t as deep as you might expect, given the 2.0 surround option, I doubt anyone will complain in this case. This disc also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: What are the extras?

An audio commentary is provided by film historian Dana Polan, who starts off well and dishes out quite a bit of information. The talking is fast and furious out of the gate, but about halfway through the film, Polan slows down and starts covering old ground. But if you only listen to the first half of the track, Polan is solid and makes this session well worth a listen. The only other supplement is the film’s theatrical trailer, which is a shame, as this movie deserves a more lavish treatment.

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