Towards the end of WWII a one-armed man breezes into the tiny desert community of Black Rock; his identity unremarkable, his purpose unknown—and immediately we’re aware that something is not quite right. Greeted with suspicion and outright hostility by the town’s dozen or so inhabitants, John J. Macreedy (a soft-spoken Spencer Tracy) is nevertheless determined to seek out the man he’s come to find despite being stonewalled by the sheriff and threatened by the local land baron and his posse of goons. It seems Black Rock has a terrible secret to hide and no one wants to see Macreedy live long enough to discover it. Filmed in widescreen Cinemascope with vistas of endless sand and towering mesas to heighten its sense of isolation, John Sturges’ tale of an ugly small town and the even uglier people who live there paints a dire picture of patriotism’s other side—the xenophobia and racism, and the righteous mindset of the pack. Although a bit too extreme to be considered a microcosm of America at large (unless you concentrate on the civil rights travails of the South) Bad Day certainly casts an unwelcome light on one of that country’s darker wartime legacies. Presenting his film as a dry and dusty chamber piece featuring a cast of A-list character actors, Sturges slowly ramps up the tension using long, almost languorous shots under a burning sun. The result is a dim and pessimistic parable set in a West more villainous than wild.

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