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STORM WARNING(director: Stuart Heisler; screenwriters: Richard Brooks/Daniel Fuchs; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: Clarence Kolster; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Ginger Rogers (Marsha Mitchell), Ronald Reagan (Burt Rainey), Doris Day (Lucy Rice), Steve Cochran (Hank Rice), Hugh Sanders (Charlie Barr), Paul E. Burns (Baggage Man), Raymond Greenleaf (Faulkner), Walter Baldwin (Coroner); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Warner Bros.; 1951)
“Good on spectacle but trivializes the serious subject of race hatred with an inadequate depiction of the KKK.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Warner Brothers social conscience film that’s good on spectacle but trivializes the serious subject of race hatred with an inadequate depiction of the KKK, as it pays more attention to the melodrama than to any message. Stuart Heisler (“The Glass Key”/”Dallas”/”Tulsa”) tries to weave a well-intentioned anti-Klan film by working into the plot various forms of violence and intimidation the KKK exerts on a small Southern town. Writers Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs blend it into a social commentary and thriller pic, fudging over the more profound social problems to stay with the more engrossing action scenes. There’s one memorable scene of a KKK cross burning that looked good and felt menacing, but the contrived dramatics built into that scene considerably weakened the spectacle as the future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, breaks up the meeting almost single-handed by casually strolling through the crowd and calling out the members by name. Also startling, at the same cross burning, was the sight of a miscast Ginger Rogers being whipped by robed and hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan.

One evening NYC model Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) takes a break from her busy out-of-town work schedule to visit her recently married sister Lucy (Doris Day, her first non-singing role), who lives in the sleepy Southern small-town of Rock Point that is nearby her next worksite of Riverport. As she leaves the bus terminal, the locals act nervous and the taxi driver refuses to give her a ride to her sister’s recreation center job. Forced to walk those ten blocks in the dark and deserted streets, Marsha checks her bags at the terminal. On the way, she ducks in an alleyway and witnesses a group of sheet wearing and hooded KKK men brutally kill a bound and gagged man they dragged out from the jail. Later she learns the vic is Walter Adams, an out-of-town reporter working on an expos√© of the KKK in secret. Marsha was able to see the faces of two men who took off their hoods, and to her shock she discovers later on that one of them is Hank Rice (Steve Cochran)–the loutish oversexed hunky truck driver husband of her sister. Deciding to keep mum when her pregnant sis says she’s in love with Hank (which we take to mean he’s good in the sack), Marsha plans to catch the morning bus to her next destination. But county prosecutor Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) has his men pick her up as a witness when she picks up her baggage to depart and even though she lies saying she saw no one, she inadvertently mentions the killers were dressed as Klansman. This is enough for the crusading DA to call for a coroner’s inquest to bring charges against the entire local chapter of the KKK (this comes just hours after the crime). This forces the KKK leader and Hank’s mill owner boss, Charlie Barr (Hugh Sanders), to plan a strategy to stop Marsha from blabbing and for the addle-brained Hank to start acting so cowardly and lewd that even the not-too-swift Lucy catches on after awhile that he’s no good.

It has the look and spark of the usual Warner Bros. crime drama, but delivers the public safety message that Americans won’t or shouldn’t tolerate in their neck of the woods a thuggish organization like the KKK (sort of like their ‘crime doesn’t pay’ messages they leave with their formulaic bloody gangster pics). Surprisingly the racial hate message of the Klan is never touched upon. These Ku Klux Klan members seem to be only interested in keeping outsiders away from their town, dressing up in their robed costumes to act tough while in disguise and using the Klan to hide their thieving criminal activities.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”