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Storm Warning

Posted by martinteller on May 26, 2013

Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) has just arrived in the small Southern town of Rock Point.  She’s stopped there between jobs as a model for a travelling salesman in order to pay a quick visit to her sister Lucy (Doris Day), who she hasn’t seen in years.  On her way to the recreation center where Lucy works, however, she witnesses the murder of a man by a group of Klan members.  Shaken, she tells Lucy about it, and the two go to her sister’s home.  Then Lucy’s husband Hank (Steve Cochran) comes home… and Marsha recognizes him as one of the killers.  Now she’s torn between her desire to protect her sister’s family and her desire to do the right thing.  Complicating matters on both sides are the Klan leader (Hugh Sanders) trying to cover his ass and the county prosecutor (Ronald Reagan) who seeks justice despite intense public pressure to leave it alone.

This was a surprisingly good noir.  There are few dead spots as the tensions keep building and shifting.  Cochran is superb in it, playing a Stanley Kowalski-esque character.  He thinks he’s clever, but he’s too stupid to control his impulses, making him very menacing and dangerous.  Rogers acquits herself very nicely as well, expressing the struggle between fear, anger and conscience quite well.  Day might be the most surprising of the lot, little glamour or perkiness here, she’s quietly heartbreaking as a gal whose idyllic vision of her life is starting to crumble.  And this is my first time seeing Reagan actually act.  Leaving aside any discussion of politics, he’s not bad.  A little bland but that’s to be expected from the most blatantly “good guy” role.

The main downside of the film is how easy it is on the KKK.  Race is never mentioned.  Not once.  Their enemies are “busybodies” and “outsiders”.  The only person they kill in the movie is white (an “outsider” journalist snooping around).  There are no black speaking roles, although you see a few blacks outside the courthouse.  The film also tacks on this weird thing where the leaders of the Klan are embezzling money from the membership, as if that‘s the reason they’re so bad.  While the movie is to be commended for taking on the KKK, the way it’s done is very toothless.

This aside, it’s a pretty compelling thriller with some fine noir lighting.  Perhaps the social commentary has little edge, but the action helps compensate for that… especially with a brutal and unexpected ending.  And it makes a strong case for individual responsibility and personal integrity.  The best of the four noirs I’ve seen from director Stuart Heisler.  Rating: Very Good (83)


6 Responses to “Storm Warning”

  1. Danny said

    I’m curious if you’ve ever seen The Black Legion with Humphrey Bogart. Also about a semi-cleaned up version of the Klan, but an interesting take nonetheless.

    • Never even heard of it!

      • Danny said

        Check it out if you get the chance. The Production Code meant that they couldn’t do a lot of things– like name the organization as it really was or have them actually chase after people of different color, which you’d imagine would be quite essential– but it instead uses it as a story to talk about how easily people can be led into doing dumb things if someone appeals to their baser instincts. Not great or anything, but interesting.

  2. Interesting that The Black Legion is mentioned. Only a couple of days ago I went looking for it through the local library, which didn’t have it. I’d heard about in a bio of Bogart I’ve been reading.

  3. ACE said

    I feel the film is quite underrated. Out of the performances listed, I think Ginger Rogers is the most interesting. Her difficult -to say the least – situation, I think she handles very well, and her subsequent kidnapping and abuse , is particularly good when she admits that she is not brave or a hero, but that she will speak up, is particularly effective.

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