When Marsha Mitchell (Rogers, in one of her strongest roles) visits her sister (Doris Day) in the Deep South, she witnesses a Ku Klux Klan murder involving her brother-in-law. This frighteningly tense and atmospheric anti-Klan thriller was made on the cusp of an increasing conservatism in 1950s America and so, bizarrely, has no explicit references to the Klan’s racism. Nonetheless, this powerful drama strongly emphasises their terrifying grip on small-town communities.
A contemporary review
Warners, who pioneered the social reform pictures of the 1930’s, have contented themselves in the post-war period with the vague idealisms of Key Largo, and the journalistic sensations of Caged. In Storm Warning they return to their former territory with an expose of Ku Klux Klan methods. The Klan is reported to be gaining new strength by adopting an anti-Jewish, anti-Communist line: whether or not this is so, Storm Warning has all the appearance of dealing with a genuine rather than a fabricated problem. It is the story of a town dominated by the Klan, which is pictured as a crooked but business-like concern, whose leaders take advantage of their position to make off with funds subscribed by lesser members.
Storm Warning has a taut, controlled and exciting script by Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs. The fault of most problem pictures is that the problem is allowed to get in the way of the picture – that considerations of character and plot logic are sacrificed to the temptation to preach at the audience in very clear and simple terms. Richard Brooks, in Crisis, fell into this trap when he allowed his characters (notably the dictator) to express their views in this over-simplified dialogue, rather than resolving the conflict satisfactorily in terms of action. Storm Warning presents a credible situation, allows its audience to work out its implications for themselves, and does not attempt to weigh the film down with more generalisations than, as a dramatic story, it will bear.
At least two scenes convey a really striking impression of the temper of the frightened, uneasy little town. The opening – Marsha’s arrival by bus, the strange silence, the darkness, the empty streets, the sudden shock of the encounter with violence (apparently shortened by the censor for British audiences) – is beautifully tense and compact, and introduces the theme with the greatest economy. Later, before the trial, atmosphere is suggested by a clever device: the crowds, sullen, suspicious, angry and ashamed at the notoriety which has struck their town, are seen through the eyes of a broadcaster who is vainly attempting to obtain their comments.
Storm Warning is consistently exciting, on its own level, being capably directed and well acted by a rather surprising cast. Ginger Rogers, whose previous excursions into the serious field have been not altogether happy, does extremely well as Marsha, and Doris Day plays the easier part of the sister very sympathetically and with considerable technical skill. As the killer Steve Cochran, previously seen in a number of conventional gangster parts, suggests a cross between the familiar hoodlum, and the husband in A Streetcar Named Desire: it is a very assured and capable performance.
Storm Warning, being better written, more compact in scope, and less generalised, is a more rewarding picture than many of the recent black-and-white cycle. It shares, however, their failure either to admit that there is no immediate solution to the problem depicted, or to suggest a solution both consistent and convincing.
Penelope Houston, Sight and Sound, March 1951
Director: Stuart Heisler
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Daniel Fuchs, Richard Brooks
Director of Photography: Carl Guthrie
Editor: Clarence Kolster
Art Director: Leo K. Kuter
Set Designer: G.W. Berntsen
Costumes: Milo Anderson
Make-up: Perc Westmore, Frank Westmore
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Music Director: Ray Heindorf
Ginger Rogers (Marsha Mitchell)
Ronald Reagan (Burt Rainey)
Doris Day (Lucy Rice)
Steve Cochran (Hank Rice)
Hugh Sanders (Charlie Barr)
Lloyd Gough (Rummell)
Raymond Greenleaf (Faulkner)
Ned Glass (George Allen)
Walter Baldwin (Bledshoe)
Lynn Whitney (Cora Athens)
Stuart Randall (Walters)
Sean McClory (Shore)
Paul E. Burns (Hauser)
A BFI National Archive print
GINGER ROGERS: ALL THAT SASS
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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