In 1945, not too many people are coming to the small western town of Black Rock anymore. In fact, when John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) comes to town, it’s the first time the train has stopped in Black Rock in four years. Although he doesn’t exactly expect a warm welcome, he sure wasn’t expecting hostility from every resident of Black Rock. When he says he stopped in Black Rock so he could drive out to Adobe Flat and see a man named Komoko, everybody gives him the third degree. He tries to check into the hotel, but Pete Wirth (John Ericson) doesn’t want to give him a room. When he does get a room, Hector David (Lee Marvin) threatens him for no reason. Even some of the locals don’t understand why everyone is so on edge about Macreedy being in town. Macreedy tries talking to sheriff Tim Horn about Komoko (Dean Jagger), but he’s too drunk to be much help. Even though Tim is the sheriff, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) appears to be the one running things in Black Rock and tells Macreedy that since Komoko was Japanese, he had been sent to an internment camp during World War II.
Regardless of what Reno had told him about Komoko, Macreedy is determined to make the trip to Adobe Flat anyway, so he rents Liz Wirth’s (Anne Francis) Jeep and drives out there. The only things he finds in Adobe Flat are a burned down house, a very deep well, and some wildflowers. When he sees the wildflowers, he begins to suspect that someone is buried beneath them. On the way back to Black Rock, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) gets behind Macreedy and runs him off the road. Unharmed, Macreedy gets back to Black Rock and decides to get out of there as soon as he can. Unfortunately, the train won’t be back until the next day and he can’t get a ride to the next town. Reno comes to talk to Macreedy again, and he finds out that Reno is horribly racist toward the Japanese. After this little chat, Macreedy begins to suspect that Komoko is buried under those wildflowers and Reno is the one who put him there.
Macreedy tries to call the state police for help but can’t get through. Doc (Walter Brennan), one of the few people in town willing to help him, offers him a vehicle to get out of town, but it’s been tampered with. In a last ditch effort, he tries sending a telegram to the state police to come help. Since all he can do now is wait, Macreedy stops in at the local bar and Coley and Reno show up to cause trouble for him. But by now, he’s had just about enough of them and gets into a fight with Coley and tells Reno that he knows he killed Komoko and he couldn’t even do it alone. The next day, before he was due to leave, Macreedy finds out that his telegram was given to Reno instead of the state police. Macreedy, Doc, and Tim all remind Reno that it’s a federal offense to do that, but Reno isn’t scared of them. Once Reno is gone, though, Macreedy tells Doc and Pete that he had come to Black Rock to find Komoko so he could give him a medal awarded posthumously to his son, who had saved Macreedy’s life during the war. Finally, Pete cracks and admits what happened to Komoko. Doc and Pete then plot to get Macreedy to safety and to take back control of their town.
Even if you don’t like Westerns, you really shouldn’t be deterred from Bad Day at Black Rock. It’s much more of a mystery than it is a Western. And it is one captivating mystery, at that. There wasn’t a moment in the movie where I wasn’t glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting to find out what on Earth was going on in Black Rock and what happened to Komoko. Not only is the story wonderful, but you can’t ask for a much better cast than this! Everything about it was amazing, it’s a real must-see movie!