I’m extremely pleased to submit this review as part of The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon being hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To access the blogathon page click the link above or the image below.
This movie is a thriller cleverly disguised as a Western. It has also been said to contain film noir elements. These things are all true.
The year is 1945. The setting: the isolated Southwestern desert town of Black Rock. For the first time in ages, the train stops and lets a mysterious one-armed stranger off. The man is John J. Macreedy (played by Spencer Tracy) and, from the moment he leaves the train, you can tell he means business.
Macreedy seeks a man named Komoko, but his inquiries with the residents lead to nothing but trouble. In fact, everyone in this tiny community (with the exception of a few hardy souls) becomes hostile at the mention of Komoko’s name. Needless to say, all this hostility leads Macreedy to wonder why. So he pokes around some more, trying to figure that out. This gives him a bit of a reputation, and since the townsfolk are too stupid to play it cool worried about what he’ll discover, their hostility level toward Macreedy rises. To the point where it becomes deadly for him to hang around until the next train comes through.
Spencer Tracy’s performance in this film is an understated triumph. Macreedy may be a one-armed man, but he’s hardly incapable of defending himself—whether in verbal or physical conflict. And the townsfolk trying to thwart this search include such heavy hitters as Robert Ryan (their de facto leader), Lee Marvin, and Ernest Borgnine.
The script for this film is also a gem. Here are some of the zingers:
First Train Conductor: Man, they look woebegone and far away.
John J. Macreedy: Oh, I’ll only be here twenty-four hours.
First Train Conductor: In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.
John J. Macreedy: I got a problem of my own.
Doc T.R. Velle Jr. (played by Walter Brennan): You sure have, they’re going to kill you with no hard feelings.
John J. Macreedy: And you’re going to sit there and let ‘em do it.
Doc T.R. Velle Jr.: Don’t get waspish with me, mister.
John J. Macreedy: Oh, I’m sorry, I, uh …
Doc T.R. Velle Jr.: Yeah, well, I feel for you, but I’m consumed with apathy. Why should I mix in?
Reno Smith (played by Robert Ryan): My name’s Smith. I own the Three Bar Ranch. I want to apologize for some of the people in town.
John J. Macreedy: Act like they’re sitting on a keg.
Reno Smith: A keg? Of what?
John J. Macreedy: Heh-heh, oh, I don’t know. Diamonds? Gunpowder?
Reno Smith: Oh, it’s nothing like that. We are suspicious of strangers, is all. Hangover from the old days, the Old West.
John J. Macreedy: I thought the tradition of the Old West was hospitality.
Reno Smith: I am trying to BE hospitable, Mr. Macreedy.
Reno Smith: She must have strained every muscle in her head to get so stupid.
Coley Trimble (played by Ernest Borgnine): You’re a yellow-bellied Jap lover! Am I right or wrong?
John J. Macreedy: You’re not only wrong. You’re wrong at the top of your voice.
So much for the hospitality of the Old West. And without giving away what happens, I’ll just say the story represents a triumph of brain over brawn, and of intelligence over ignorance.
It’s also interesting to note the small but significant roles played by Anne Francis and John Ericson, who would go on to become partners on television in Honey West.
This movie received deservedly high acclaim from the critics and did well at the box office. It delivers a taut, well-written, and well-presented story in an economical 81 minutes. The movie is a must-see for fans of modern Westerns, thrillers, and film noir, because it has something for all of you.