STORM FEAR(director: Cornel Wilde; screenwriters: Horton Foote/from the novel by Clinton Seeley; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editor: Otto Ludwig; cast: Cornel Wilde (Charlie), Jean Wallace (Elizabeth), Dan Duryea (Fred), Lee Grant (Edna), David Stollery (David), Dennis Weaver (Hank), Steven Hill (Benjie); Runtime: 88; United Artists; 1956)
“A gripping film noir.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A gripping film noir that’s set in a claustrophobic rural New England farmhouse during a snowstorm, where a physically ill and unsuccessful writer, Fred (Duryea), lives with his wife Liz (Wallace) and their 12-year-old son David (Stollery). The place was bought by his gangster younger brother. There’s also a hired hand on the premises, Hank (Weaver), who pines for Liz.
When Hank goes into town for supplies, a gang of bank robbers drive up to the house and force themselves in. The leader of the gang is Fred’s kid brother Charlie (Wilde), who got a bullet in his leg when stealing $80,000. The other members are a psychopathic gunman, Benjie (Hill), and a gun moll wearing a mink coat named Edna (Lee Grant). It’s not clear which man she’s with, but neither shows much interest in her. The gang has killed a policeman, and one other gang member is critically shot and is being held in police custody.
The gang promises to leave in the morning, but a snowstorm prevents them. As they wait in the small cabin, the tension builds as we learn that Charlie used to go out with Liz before she married Fred. We also learn that Liz married Fred when she had David, whose real father he doesn’t know is Charlie. The marriage has been a strained one, without much affection or love on Liz’ part for Fred. She’s still physically attracted to Charlie even though she knows that he’s no good. Fred is a bitter man who is jealous of both Hank and Charlie.
By pumping David, Charlie figures that the best way out is going over a dangerous snow-covered mountain pass on foot. David is charmed into leading the gang by his Uncle Charlie. He’s used because he’s the only one who knows the way. This is over the protests of his mother, who is tied up when she tries to stop them and by Fred who goes by snowshoes to get the town police. But, Fred dies from the strain and is found by Hank.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
In the climax the gang flees and quarrels amongst themselves. The film turns out to be more interested in whom David has more of an affection for–Uncle Charlie, his mother, or Fred. The chase on the mountain symbolizes how the characters can’t overcome the winter storm they have to traverse, which is a metaphor for the cold climate they must live with inside themselves. The film has an intangible intensity that elevates its melodramatic story and makes all the main characters hopeless victims of their circumstances that they can’t change. The only exception is the misanthropic Benjie, who is not capable of having a loving relationship.
REVIEWED ON 9/30/2001 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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