BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.
cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).
John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.
AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).
THE NAKED SPUR (USA, 1953) ****
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Release Date: 30 January 1953 (USA), 16 April 1953 (UK); Filming Dates: May 1952 – 30 June 1952; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Sam Rolfe, Harold Jack Bloom; Producer: William H. Wright; Director of Photography: William C. Mellor; Music Composer: Bronislau Kaper; Film Editor: George White; Art Director: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; Set Decorator: Edwin B. Willis; Make-up: William Tuttle.
Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp), Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate).
Synopsis: A bounty hunter trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers.
Comment: This excellent and tense Western is more a psychological drama. Stewart is a haunted bounty hunter who looks to bring in outlaw Ryan with the unwanted help of prospector Mitchell and dishonourably discharged cavalryman Meeker. Leigh is Ryan’s companion – the misfit daughter of a dead outlaw. Along the long journey through beautiful Colorado locations, Ryan begins to play his captors off against each other, whilst Stewart slowly falls for Leigh. Mann handles the material expertly and the performances are excellent – notably Stewart as the self-tortured hero and Ryan as the manipulative villain. Great score by Kaper heightens the tension and sumptuous photography from Mellor.
TRAIL STREET (USA, 1947) **½
Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures; Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures; Release Date: 19 February 1947; Filming Dates: 26 July–mid-September 1946; Running Time: 84m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Ray Enright; Writer: Norman Houston, Gene Lewis (based on the novel by William Corcoran); Executive Producer: Jack J. Gross; Producer: Nat Holt; Director of Photography: J. Roy Hunt; Music Composer: Paul Sawtell; Film Editor: Lyle Boyer; Art Director: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D’Agostino; Set Decorator: Darrell Silvera, John Sturtevant; Costumes: Adele Balkan; Make-up: Mel Berns (uncredited); Sound: Terry Kellum, Jean L. Speak.
Cast: Randolph Scott (Bat Masterson), Robert Ryan (Allen Harper), Anne Jeffreys (Ruby Stone), George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (Billy Jones), Madge Meredith (Susan Pritchett), Steve Brodie (Logan Maury), Billy House (Carmody), Virginia Sale (Hannah), Harry Woods (Larkin Larkin), Phil Warren (Slim), Harry Harvey (Mayor), Jason Robards Sr. (Jason (as Jason Robards)).
Synopsis: Bat Masterson’s old friend Billy Burns convinces him to become marshal of Liberal, Kansas and help the residents fight drought and a destructive range war.
Comment: Tale of rich rancher Brodie battling land agent Ryan who supports the farmers looking to grow their crops under the hot Kansas sun is an overly familiar trek through Western tropes. Scott enters the fray as lawman Bat Masterson determined to see that the law is upheld. Meredith is Ryan’s love interest also pursued by Brodie, whilst Jeffreys is the saloon girl spurned by Brodie. Hayes lives up to his nickname as Scott’s sidekick and deputy who can’t stop running his mouth. Enright directs the action scenes well, but the hokey dialogue is delivered in often flat fashion by most of the cast – only Scott and Jeffrey manage to inject personality into their characters and rise above the routine material. The result is an entertaining enough, if dated, Western.
Longest Day, The (1962; USA; B&W; 178m) ****½ d. Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki; w. Cornelius Ryan, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, Jack Seddon; ph. Jean Bourgoin, Walter Wottitz; m. Maurice Jarre. Cast: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Curt Jurgens, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery, Mel Ferrer, Eddie Albert, Richard Todd, Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Edmond O’Brien, Gert Frobe, Kenneth More, Red Buttons, Steve Forrest, Peter Lawford, Sal Mineo, Leslie Phillips, George Segal, Peter van Eyck, Stuart Whitman, Frank Finlay, Jack Hedley. The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. Like the event itself this is a triumph of logistics in its attempt to recreate the seminal invasion of 6 June 1944. Crisply photographed in black and white this may have its fair share of genre cliches, but its strive for authenticity is admirable. It proved to be the inspiration for a number of similar WWII recreations during the 1960s and 1970s., but none bettered this efficiently marshalled all-star movie. Won Oscars for Cinematography and Special Effects (Robert MacDonald, Jacques Maumont). Todd was himself in Normandy on D-Day Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. There is also a digitally remastered colourised version of the film. [PG]
Wild Bunch, The (1969; USA; Technicolor; 145m) ****½ d. Sam Peckinpah; w. Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, Roy N. Sickner; ph. Lucien Ballard; m. Jerry Fielding. Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Strother Martin, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, L.Q. Jones, Emilio Fernandez, Albert Dekker, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Paul Harper, Jorge Russek. An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them. Ultra-violent statement from Peckinpah symbolising the passing of the Old West and the introduction of modern warfare. Immaculately shot and edited with a percussive doom-laden score by Fielding. Veterans Holden and Ryan in particular are superb and are well supported by a strong stalwart cast. Opening and closing shootouts are brutal.