It’s always interesting to see an actor not associated with the action genre take on a tough guy role.
Spencer Tracy was best known for his comedic and dramatic performances. But in Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) he plays a mysterious stranger who arrives in a remote desert town looking for a old friend.
The locals aren’t keen on Tracy’s search for his missing buddy and proceed to obstruct him at every turn, subjecting him to an increasing level of harassment.
When this film came out Tracy was 55 years old. Short, stocky, and ravaged by years of alcoholism, he looked at least a decade older. The weathered appearance of The Philadelphia Story star adds to his character’s vulnerability, who is meant to be a war veteran who has lost the use of one arm.
In this classic scene, Tracy is again bullied by the town’s henchmen as he tries to get a meal at a small diner. The great Ernest Borgnine preys on our hero with petty, provocative bullying.
Having avoided rising to all the antagonism thrown at him until then, Tracy finally stands his ground. Borgnine expects to win the confrontation easily, but unbeknownst to him Tracy has a hidden talent in judo.
It’s a fabulous unexpected moment, as we get to see the tables turned on Borgnine’s bruiser. It’s also an important moment in Hollywood action history. While it is not the very first use of martial arts in a Tinseltown movie – the Mr Moto series in the Thirties and Forties has that claim – it’s use in Bad Day At Black Rock was iconic.
So sit back and enjoy a great moment in action history. Just make sure you’ve sat on the right stool…..