A handicapped war veteran, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) arrives by train in the remote desert town of Black Rock, during the final days of World War II. Macreedy is seeking a man named Komoko, but has no luck in locating him, as the residents of Black Rock are uncooperative, and hostile. The town’s unofficial authority figure, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) tells Macreedy that Komoko, being of Japanese descent, was interred shortly after the start of the war, and no longer resides in Black Rock. Sensing that something is wrong, Macreedy seeks help from the sheriff (Dean Jagger), who proves to be an alcoholic who is intimidated by Smith. Investigating on his own, Macreedy concludes that Komoko is dead, and that Smith, who has revealed himself to be an anti-Japanese racist, probably had something to do with it. Unfortunately for Macreedy, Smith controls all communication and transportation available in Black Rock, and Macreedy must deal with Smith and his hooligans with no outside assistance.
It would be difficult to find a motion picture with a higher total of career Academy Awards among its cast and crew than “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Including the multi-Oscar wins by Spencer Tracy, Walter Brennan and music composer Andre Previn, along with one time winners Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin and Dore Schary, the total Oscar count is 12. “Bad Day at Black” itself received no Academy Awards despite three nominations. Interestingly, Spencer Tracy originally turned down the role of Macreedy, prompting producer Schary to make the character a one-armed man. Schary guessed correctly that Tracy could not resist the challenge of playing a man with such a handicap.
Note: After playing a heavy in “Bad Day at Black Rock,” Ernest Borgnine’s career took off in another direction, as he was cast as the loveable butcher in the film “Marty.” Released three months after “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “Marty” won the Academy Award for Best Picture, while Borgnine took home the Oscar for Best Actor, beating out, among others, Spencer Tracy, who was nominated for his work in “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Although Tracy’s Macreedy beats the heck out of Borgnine’s character in “Black Rock,” Ernie got the last laugh.
Trivia: Ernest Borgnine (93) is the oldest living recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor.