“Storm Warning” (1951) starring Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, & Steve Cochran

On the way to a job, a NYC based model, Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers), decides to stop at a small town (Rock Point) to visit her sister, Lucy Rice (Doris Day), who she hasn’t seen in 2 yrs. She will be able to finally meet Lucy’s husband, Hank (Steve Cochran- a character actor who often played villains), who works at the local mill. Upon arriving in town, Marsha witnesses a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) murder! She saw two of the men’s faces (after they removed their hoods), BUT they didn’t see her. We soon learn that the man was Walter Adams, a reporter from out of town who’d been investigating the KKK. Upon later arriving at Lucy’s house, Marsha is shocked to see that Hank was one of the men involved in the murder! Marsha is speechless for a moment, wondering how she’ll break the news to her sister (who looks to be SO happy w/ her life). Meanwhile, the county prosecutor, Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan), knows that the KKK committed the murder. It seem that everyone in town is aware of this, BUT Rainey knows that none of the locals will come forward to implicate the KKK.

Sheriff Art Jaeger: Well, that’s all there is. I take orders. You give me an order, l’ll do it. You know anybody in Rock Point who will go to the inquest for you and testify against the Klan? Tell me, and l’ll bring ’em in. If you don’t, and you don’t, stop kicking my men around for not doing what you can’t do yourself.

Burt Rainey: I know. But every time someone from New York, Washington, or points north, starts poking his nose in our affairs, we holler foul. Well, if we don’t want the meddling, one of these days we’re gonna have to start cleaning up our own messes. You and me. All of us.

Warner Bros. wanted Lauren Bacall to star, but she’d decided to travel to the Belgian Congo (as it was then called) w/ her husband, Humphrey Bogart, who’d be making The African Queen (1951). This is Day’s first non-singing role. Joan Crawford was asked by studio boss Jack L. Warner to play the lead role; Crawford declined by saying: “Come on, Jack. No one would ever believe that I would have Doris Day for a sister!” LOL- too real! Alfred Hitchcock liked Day’s performance here so much that he asked her to act in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Day was V happy to work w/ Rogers; before Day’s success as a big band singer, she’d aspired to be a dancer (and Rogers was one of her childhood idols). The writers (Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks) were known for fine work; Brooks was nominated for 6 Oscars over his long career.

Burt Rainey: Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. It’s a shame Adam’s body keeps getting in the way.

Walt Walters: I don’t know who’s the guiltier, the one who commits the crime or the one who just stands by and refuses to do anything about it.

Burt Rainey: Sometimes, I sit around for hours trying to figure that one out.

This is an (oddly) compelling film noir/melodrama that I saw recently for the 1st time (Amazon Prime). It’s playing during the Noir City DC film festival at AFI (in my neighborhood of Silver Spring, MD). Where is this town located: Midwest, Southwest, or South? None of the locals have a Southern accent. Christmas is coming soon, BUT there is no snow or Winter weather. There is no mention of race; the ONLY Black residents are seen in a crowd scene (blink and you’ll miss them). There are references to “safety” (incl. of women on the streets) and “outsiders” (who are looked upon w/ suspicion). Local lawmen and businessmen are fearful and complacent; they’ve put up w/ the KKK’s influence for yrs. The KKK is considered more of a criminal organization rather than a hate group.

[1] In many ways, this is a taut and excellent drama. BUT, it also pulls some of its punches. It’s VERY strange that there are no black folks as characters in the film–not even as the victim. Now I am NOT saying the KKK didn’t sometimes kill whites, but this was the exception to the rule and completely negates the whole racism angle. It’s sad, but the film seemed to want to play it safe by playing it that way. However, while Hollywood was very hesitant to address race…

[2] The Ku Klux Klan might have been the Elks in white sheets. No pun intended, but they get quite a white washing here. No mention at all of their racism or hatred of Catholics, Jews, and foreign born of all kinds. Still they are a nasty bunch who have a habit of doing in people who disagree with them.

Ronald Reagan here is a District Attorney who is bland in a very poorly written role. The problem with the Klan was that the various county District Attorneys in the South were more than likely Klan members, or who, at best, just looked the other way. After all, these cretins with the hoods were the very voters who put in the District Attorneys. When the Klan was prosecuted, if witnesses were found against it back in those days, it was always done at the federal level by appointed United States Attorneys.

[3] …this film isn’t very good as a history lesson… […] Storm Warning is still pretty entertaining and worth a look for anyone curious about how such subject matter was treated in an era of censorship and post-war political atmosphere.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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