Storm Center

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Storm Center
StormCenterPoster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster designed by Saul Bass
Directed by Daniel Taradash
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Screenplay by Daniel Taradash
Elick Moll
Starring Betty Davis
Brian Keith
Kim Hunter
Music by George Duning
Production
  company
Phoenix Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • July 31, 1956 (1956-07-31)
Running time 85 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Storm Center (1956) is an American drama film directed by Daniel Taradash. The screenplay by Taradash and Elick Moll focuses on what were at the time two very controversial subjects, Communism and book banning, and took a strong stance against censorship. The film stars Bette Davis.

Synopsis[edit]

In the first overtly anti-McCarthyism film to be produced in Hollywood, Alicia Hull is a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children's wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book The Communist Dream from the library's collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive.

Judge Ellerbe feels she has been treated unfairly and calls a town meeting. Ambitious attorney and aspiring politician Paul Duncan, who is dating assistant librarian Martha Lockeridge, uses the meeting as an opportunity to make a name for himself by denouncing Alicia as a Communist. His forceful rhetoric turns the entire town, with the exception of young Freddie Slater, against her.

The boy, increasingly upset by the mistreatment his mentor is suffering and affected by the influence of his narrow-minded father, finally turns on Alicia himself and sets the library on fire. His action causes the residents to have a change of heart, and they ask Alicia to return and supervise the construction of a new building.

Production notes[edit]

In 1951, it was announced Mary Pickford would return to the screen after an 18-year absence in The Library, produced by Stanley Kramer and directed by Irving Reis. The following year, she withdrew from the project a month before filming was scheduled to begin, ostensibly due to the fact it was not a Technicolor production. Within days, Kramer signed Barbara Stanwyck to replace her, but scheduling conflicts with his new star repeatedly delayed the start of filming. Kramer eventually dropped out of the project, and it remained in limbo until Taradash decided to direct it himself with the new title.[1]

Although set in New England, the Columbia Pictures release was filmed on location in Santa Rosa, California. It is the only film ever directed by Taradash.

The film is also notable for featuring an early poster and title sequence created by noted graphic designer Saul Bass. The opening title sequence features flames that eat away at both the face of a boy and pages from a book.

While the events the movie were largely fictional, the character played by Bette Davis was based on Ruth W. Brown, the Bartlesville librarian, and her struggle with the county commission over communist literature.[2]

Principal cast[edit]

Other cast[edit]

Principal production credits[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther felt "the purpose and courage of the men who made this film not only are to be commended but also deserve concrete rewards. They have opened a subject that is touchy and urgent in contemporary life . . . [they] put a stern thought in this film, which is that the fears and suspicions of our age are most likely to corrupt and scar the young . . . However . . . the thesis is much better than the putting forth of it. The visualization of this drama is clumsy and abrupt . . . Mr. Blaustein and Mr. Taradash have tried nobly, but they have failed to develop a film that whips up dramatic excitement or flames with passion in support of its theme." Of Bette Davis, he said, "[She gives] a fearless and forceful performance as the middle-aged widowed librarian who stands by her principles. Miss Davis makes the prim but stalwart lady human and credible." [3]

Time said the film "makes reading seem nearly as risky a habit as dope . . . [it] is paved and repaved with good intentions; its heart is insistently in the right place; its leading characters are motivated by the noblest of sentiments. All that Writer-Director Taradash forgot was to provide a believable story." [4]

In the Saturday Review, Arthur Knight opined the film "comes to grips with its central problem with a forthright honesty and integrity . . . It may be that in fashioning the story the authors have made their film a bit too pat, a bit too glib, a bit too easy in its articulation of the various points of view expressed. Bette Davis's enlightened liberalism sounds at times as dangerously smug and self-righteous as the benighted politicos and anti-intellectuals who oppose her." [5]

The National Legion of Decency stated the "propaganda film offers a warped, over simplified emotional solution to the complex problems of civil liberties in American life." Daily Variety responded to the Legion by suggesting "it's almost impossible to over-dramatize human liberty whether it's a depiction of Patrick Henry ... or a librarian sacrificing her reputation rather than her democratic principles." [1]

Time Out London calls the film a "didactic, laborious piece." [6]

TV Guide says, "While the film was forthright in its attempt to deal with censorship, the execution was dismal. The sudden alteration in the town's beliefs is just too nonsensical to accept. Davis, however, is quite convincing as the principled librarian, but there just isn't enough of a story to complement her performance." [7]

Of it Davis herself said, "I was not overjoyed with the finished film . . . I had far higher hopes for it. The basic lack was the casting of the boy. He was not a warm, loving type of child . . . his relationship with the librarian was totally unemotional and, therefore, robbed the film of its most important factor [since] their relationship . . . was the nucleus of the script." [8]

In 1957 Storm Center was awarded the Prix de Chevalier da la Barre at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was cited as "this year's film which best helps freedom of expression and tolerance." [9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Storm Center at Turner Classic Movies
  2. ^ American Library Association (N.D.). Storm Center. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/storm-center
  3. ^ New York Times review
  4. ^ Time review
  5. ^ Storm Center at University of Pennsylvania website
  6. ^ Time Out London review
  7. ^ TV Guide review
  8. ^ Mother Goddam by Whitney Stine, with a running commentary by Bette Davis, Hawthorn Books, 1974, pg. 264 (ISBN 0-8015-5184-6)
  9. ^ New York Times, Daniel Taradash Letter to the Editor, October 18, 1992

External links[edit]