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Bad Day at Black Rock
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is a thriller, with intense scenes including a scary car chase and a scene in which one person is shot and another is killed with a homemade bomb, but the violence is not graphic. This film offers a dark view of how overseas wars affect those on the homefront, and has strong themes of race and prejudice.
What's the story?
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK begins as one-armed John MacReedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off a train in a tiny, dusty little Western town rarely visited by strangers. At the local hotel, MacReedy asks about a local farmer named Komoko and the manager res to give him a room. When MacReedy takes a key anyway, bully Hector (Lee Marvin) insists that it is his room. MacReedy takes another room. Town kingpin Reno (Robert Ryan) tells his lackeys to push MacReedy without giving him information. Eventually, MacReedy finds his way Komoko's farm, but it is deserted. Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) chases MacReedy back to town, driving him off the road and slamming into the jeep with his truck. MacReedy realizes that Reno is out to kill him. But why? MacReedy has come to Black Rock to give Komoko the medal his son was awarded by the U.S. Army for heroism. Komoko's son had saved MacReedy's life before he was killed in battle. But Reno and his henchmen killed Komoko at the start of World War II because he was Japanese. MacReedy's troubles are just beginning – will he make it out alive?
Is it any good?
This thriller has a stellar performance by Spencer Tracy, as MacReedy. "A man is as big as what makes him mad," MacReedy says to Reno in one of the movie's key scenes, and it is a concept children (and parents) should think about. It is also interesting that Reno killed Komoko after he was found ineligible to enlist in the Army. His hostility toward Komoko was based on displaced of his anger and frustration as much as it was based on racism.
MacReedy did not choose the battle, but he never turns away from it. A man who had no direction, and no goal beyond the presentation of the medal to Komoko, becomes a man who will not allow Reno and his thugs to win. He is fighting them not just for Komoko, but for himself, and in doing so finds a pride and dignity that enables him to go on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about prejudice -- in terms of both race and the disabled. What does it mean to say, "a man is only as big as what makes him mad?" Think about a time you got mad. How big was the thing that made you mad? How do you measure? The people in the town had different reasons for obeying Reno. What were they? How did MacReedy change? What did he learn about himself?