Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) is on her way to a modeling job in New York when she decides to make a short stop in the town of Rock Point where her sister Lucy (Doris Day) lives.
The sisters have not seen each other in two years. Marsha is excited to spend time with Lucy and meet her husband Hank (Steve Cochran) for the first time.
Things go awry when Marsha arrives in Rock Point. She notices that all of the businesses in town are closing up early, and on her way to find her sister she ends up witnessing a Ku Klux Klan murder of a reporter. Though Marsha can see the men, they don’t see her and she’s able to escape unnoticed.
But when she finally finds Lucy and they go to the house, Marsha is shocked to discover that Hank is one of the men she saw committing the murder.
Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key) directs 1951’s Storm Warning, which was written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks. Warner originally wanted to cast Lauren Bacall in the lead role of Marsha, but Rogers was cast when Bacall decided to go to Africa with Bogie, who was filming The African Queen. Ronald Reagan appears alongside Rogers, Day and Cochran as District Attorney Burt Rainey.
Storm Warning kicks off with ominous music and brewing clouds, leaving no question of what the mood of the film will be, and the tension is carried on throughout. As the premise would imply, the film is high on drama. It maintains a firm hold on the viewer until the very end.
The cast is also pretty great. Ginger Rogers and Doris Day are completely believable as sisters. Rogers gives a solid performance as usual, and Day holds her own in her first non-singing role, though she does have a few moments of stiff delivery.
Steve Cochran also gives a very good performance as Day’s husband. His portrayal of the character gives of a mix of sneakiness, un-likability and desperation.
The film’s biggest downfall is that it isn’t as ambitious with the subject matter as it could have been. While it certainly villainizes the Klan, no direct mention is made of the groups racism, antisemitism or anti-Catholic beliefs.
The film paints them as a mob-like, “dirty money” organization rather than an extremist discriminatory group. Even the murder they commit is mob-like: they target a reporter who was writing a revealing piece on them.
Still, there are few things more disconcerting to see on screen than Klan ceremonies, and the film’s ending definitely gave me a case of the heebies in this respect. I found it highly disturbing, even despite the fact that the ceremony leader sounds like the “Mr. Moviephone” voice from 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats.
Storm Warning doesn’t push the envelope as much as I expected (or hoped), but it’s a solid thriller and an engrossing drama with no trouble keeping its grasp on the viewer. The score: 3.5/5