I'm going to do you a huge favour. I'm going to tell you about the best movie that you've probably never seen, with one of the best actors who you probably have not seen enough of to truly appreciate. You can lord it over your friends and come out sounding like the Pauline Kael of your social group. (You're going to have to look that Pauline Kael reference.) The film is Bad Day at Black Rock and the actor is Spencer Tracy. It's a testament to Tracy enormous skill as an actor that even some of the greatest actors of today refer to him as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film actors of all time. You've no doubt heard of him, and may have even seen him in one the great comedies he made with Katherine Hepburn, the best film couple alongside Bogart and Bacall. But you don't get to really appreciate Tracy's genius, and I don't use that word lightly, until you see him at work in a drama like Bad Day at Black Rock or Inherit the Wind. And Bad Day at Black Rock is probably one of Tracy's greatest performance. John Sturges' film is ahead of it's time (1955) in almost every way possible. Somehow Bad Day at Black Rock manages to be a superb Western disguised as Film Noir. It has the mystery and paranoia of the very best Noir films, but it's storyline is driven by the very Western theme of one man against insurmountable odds. But it's way more than that. Set in 1945, just after World War II, the story of Tracy, the one armed stranger who gets off a train that never stops in that place, searching for a friend in a secretive small town run by a brutal rich man, played by Robert Ryan, is made stunningly poignant by the fact that the missing friend happens to be Japanese. Remember this movie was made in 1955, long before most Americans were willing to acknowledge the racism that their society had been built on, let alone their brutal attitude toward the Japanese. This was only 10 years after the war had ended and most Americans still saw all Asians, but the Japanese most of all, as sub human. The was the age of Joe McCarthy and the fear of the other was even more vivid then than it was during the war. And yet Sturges and Tracy make this incredible film, looking right into the face of racism and xenophobia long before almost anyone else would dare to do that. But don't worry, that's not why you should watch Bad Day at Black Rock. You should watch it because it still stands as a cinematic masterpiece and because it is a great film first and a social commentary so well disguised that you will barely be aware that the social commentary exists. The movie carries you along in the way that a great Western or a great Film Noir might. You even get not one great bad guy actor, but two in Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, two of the best villains out there, then or now. And if that's not enough you get great veteran Western character actor Walter Brennan, as one of the few people in the town who seem innocent of whatever was done, and Dean Jagger as an alcoholic spineless sheriff, an equally great character actor to round out a pretty much perfect cast. And then there's Tracy. Unlike the great Western heroes of his day, Tracy's character actually shows real and very deep fear. When he realize what he's gotten into, he wants very much to get out, but the bad guys have conspired to keep that from happening. Few actors of that day could have or would have displayed such a deep fear. Tracy, as he always was is flawless. He had a gift for dialogue and rhythm and most of all real and actual listening from moment to moment, a kind of naturalness that makes it look like he's not acting at all, that virtually no other actor of the time and very few today was capable of, and this is among Tracy's best performances. Bad Day at Black Rock moves like a good Western or a great Film Noir. It has depth, and meaning and power that we too rarely see in film today. Quite simply Bad Day at Black Rock is as good as they get. If you haven't seen it, find a way to see it. You won't be sorry. If you have seen it, watch it again. This is my fifth or sixth time. And it is even more impressive today than it was the first time I watched. Bad Day at Black Rock is one of those rare masterpieces that very few people have actually seen. You're welcome. In advance.