Film Review: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)



A one-armed man arrives at a town with a population around twenty to find that he is not welcome.  In fact, it is not the man whom the town is opposed to but rather what the man is looking for.  The longer he stays, the more danger he is in.  As he continues his forbidden search, the out-of-towner uncovers a crime that has been kept secret by the townspeople for four years.  Now he must escape the isolated community before he is killed.

This is the story which John Sturges paints on a colorful Cinemascope canvas.  Its sets are detailed and realistic and its characters are equally complex and memorable.  The script brings into play some wonderful dialogue as well as some intriguing moments of suspense.

Sturges, primarily a director of Westerns, made Bad Day at Black Rock well enough for today’s audiences to still find it enjoyable. Spencer Tracy heads up a good cast as the crippled stranger, appearing tough and determined but still generally friendly.  The film takes its time to tell its story, nevertheless, I would not watch it again just to view the unfolding of events.

What makes Black Rock so entertaining and captivating is the sharp conversations, the deep characterization, and the masterful cinematography.  The story may be nothing new to us, but few movies today make such good use of the sun’s light as this one.  The way those bright beams of light reflect off the barren plains surrounding the town not only makes this drama thriller attractive, but totally immersive and worth-while.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: The Red Balloon (1956)

For most American audiences the short film is a lost art form that was never found to begin with.  Though films festivals around the world as well as the Academy Awards recognize numerous films in this category each year, the general public hasn’t quite caught on.  But aspiring filmmakers of the craft need not worry, for their time is nearing.

With the invention of the Internet came several resources that made short films a more accessible art.  YouTube is one, users are provided with thousands of videos ranging from home-made movies to the pictures of Hollywood, and independent short films are among them.  (I myself have vitalized the site many times, the first of which I watched Vincent, a six-minute animated short which was Tim Burton’s first movie to direct).  iTunes as well, sells the latest and most successful of these pictures, available for a price around two or three dollars.

So while they may not receive the same amount of commercial success or popularity that feature-length movies enjoy, based on my experiences with both, the average short film out does the average Hollywood picture.  A short feature such as The Red Balloon is one of the best examples of this statement (others are La Jettee, Un Chien Andalou, and even Burton’s Vincent).  This one in particular though, is built quite simply on even simpler ground.

It shows a young, Parisian boy who lives in an apartment with his mother, treks through the city to school each day by himself, and stumbles onto a bright, shiny balloon one morning.  The balloon soon becomes a trusty companion to the boy, so much so that it doesn’t float away when the youth loses hold of the orb’s hanging string.  But unlike many family-oriented films made today, director Lamorisse does not make his film overly sympathetic.  None-the-less, it achieves something like movie magic.

There is some sense of energetic fun buried within the core of the movie, which can only be accounted for by the human-like, care-free movements of the balloon.  The ending, the highlight of the whole half-hour, is a joyous and triumphant sight to behold, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Lamorisse wisely uses as little dialogue as possible, giving it a naive tone that matches its protagonist.  The Red Balloon is light-hearted yet emotional, but above all, it is fully enjoyable and magically transports the audience to the gritty streets of Paris.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: The Tingler (1959)

During his sixty-three years on earth, William Castle made movies that had no other purpose than to entertain.  The best of his mostly-forgotten works were a series of horror pictures released during the late ’50s and early ’60s.  While they admittedly were not very well-made, their appeal to the audiences of that time made them hits at the box office.  (One of these cheaply-made successes, House on Haunted Hill, even inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make his own low-budget classic, Psycho.)  Castle was not a great filmmaker, but instead, an excellent showman.  The gimmicks that he created for a small number of his films gave the audience an experience in the movies that they had never had before or since.  One such example is his campy horror flick, The Tingler.

During showings of this Vincent Price vehicle, certain viewers experienced short electrical shocks due to small vibrators planted on the bottom of their seats.  Not only did this deepen the audience’s fear, but it also helped to sell tickets.  Thanks to clever advertising, many moviegoers were intrigued to see the new Castle film because it featured the director’s newest gimmick called, Percepto.  Today however, Percepto no longer exists, and those watching The Tingler at home will not have any reason to jump.  The fright that this film inspired of its audiences in 1959 has not survived either, yet there are still reasons to see it.

Despite being completely in black-and-white, there is one one memorable scene in the last half of the picture that displays a small splash of bright red.  This brief image of blood is surprisingly effective.  Perhaps the most significant landmark that The Tingler reaches lies within the scene in which Price’s Dr. Warren experiments alone in his lab.  Earlier in the film, Warren discovered a centipede-like creature called the “tingler” that lives clinging to the spinal cord of every human being.  This horrid creature grows larger at the sign of fear in their host, making it medically possible to die of fright.  At the beginning of his experiments, the doctor does what no other movie character in cinema history had done before.  Warren used LSD for the purpose of experiencing fear and ultimately, the full impact of the tingler.

With a combination of Percepto and a desperate scene in which the tingler enters a movie theater full of unsuspecting watchers, Castle produced interactive entertainment.  His gimmicks and his amusing references to his viewers treat us as one of the characters.  Even though it has many visible flaws, it adds up to a film that B-movie fanatics should not miss.

Rating: 3.5/5