Storm Warning (1951 film)

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Storm Warning
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Richard Brooks
Daniel Fuchs
Starring Ginger Rogers
Ronald Reagan
Doris Day
Steve Cochran
Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cinematography Carl E. Guthrie
Edited by Clarence Kolster
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • January 17, 1951 (1951-01-17) (Miami Beach)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.25 million (US rentals)[1]

Storm Warning is a 1951 American thriller, directed by Stuart Heisler, and featuring Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day and Steve Cochran. Lauren Bacall was originally cast in the part eventually played by Rogers. Bacall turned it down and was put on suspension by Warners for her defiance.[2]


Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers), a traveling dress model, stops in the southern town of Rockpoint to see her newly wed sister Lucy Rice (Doris Day). Within minutes of entering the town she observes unusual behavior by the townsfolk, such as dozens of people closing up shop and getting out of sight. As she walks down the almost pitch dark main street, she observes loud noises coming from the town police station. She hides and observes a drunken KKK mob beating and berating a man they had just broke out of prison. The man untangles himself from their clutches and runs, but only gets several yards before shotgun shots are fired from the mob, shooting him dead in both the chest and head. Confused, the mob approaches the fallen man, arguing amongst themselves. Marsha, who is hiding herself around the corner from the crime scene gets a good look at the two men who removed their hoods during the fiasco.

After the mob quickly leaves the scene, Marsha runs to the nearby bowling alley where her sister is employed. Lucy quickly notices the shocked and horrified look on her sister's face and inquires. Marsha tells her about the murder she just witnessed, which brings Lucy to tell her about the journalism of Walter Adams, whom she believes must have been the man who was slain. She explains that Adams arrived in town somewhat recently and was employed by the phone company, but was secretly a journalist writing defaming material about the town's klavern. The police decided to put an end to his journalism and arrested him on false charges of driving while intoxicated.

Lucy brings Marsha to her house and encourages her to tell her husband Hank about the situation. However, there is a problem- the instant Marsha is introduced to him she recognizes him as one of the two men who removed their hoods. Within minutes when she and Lucy are alone (at least she thinks they both are alone), she tells her that her husband was one of the Klansmen. An eavesdropping Hank, with a clear look of guilt on his face, denies everything. However, within minutes he's not able to hold his own against Marsha's verbal evidence, and confesses. He sobs and says he was drunk and was forced to go with them to the scene, and did not mean for the man to die- all they wanted to do, according to Hank, was talk to the guy and persuade him to leave and stop defaming their town. Hank then desperately tries to persuade Marsha to keep her mouth shut, for the sake of his life and his marriage to her sister, who is pregnant. Lucy forgives her husband and decides that he was simply a part of something that was beyond his control. Marsha, still viewing him as a vile person, reluctantly agrees to leave town and "forget" about the incident.

District Attorney Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) arrives at the murder scene and inquires to the police as to how they could let a mob break through their doors and kidnap one of their prisoners, reminding them that it is their duty to protect them. They claimed that they were simply outnumbered- Rainey, however, is skeptical of that excuse and insinuates that he thinks they were an accomplice. He then arrives at the bowling alley and questions Charlie Barr (Hugh Sanders), the Imperial Wizard of the town's KKK, and gets no results. He then learns about Marsha and orders her to his office. Many townsfolk attempt to dissuade Rainey from investigating the case, for fear of him destroying the town's reputation and economy.

At his office, Rainey questions Marsha and gets a half-truth; that she saw Klansmen, but did not get a look at their faces, which she claimed were covered by hoods. Rainey is satisfied and believes that the mere fact that she saw Klansmen is all he needs to bring them down. He hands her a subpoena for the inquest that takes place that same day. Under pressure from both her sister and the Klansmen, she decides to lie in court, allowing the grand jury to decide that Adams was "killed by assailant or assailants unknown".

The KKK, along with the sympathetic townsfolk celebrates at the bowling alley, while berating those that were against them. Disgusted with herself, Marsha packs up her stuff at Lucy's house so she can leave town. However, a drunken Hank arrives home and corners her, asking her repeatedly why she dislikes him. He then gets violent and tries to rape her, which is broken up by the arrival of Lucy. Lucy finally denounces him, and Marsha then tells him that she has rethought her testimony and is going to turn him in to Rainey and the police. Furious, he kidnaps her and brings her to the KKK rally. At the rally, they whip Marsha seven times before being broken up by the arrival of Lucy with Rainey and the police. Barr orders his men to hide Marsha and keep her quiet. As Rainey appears before him, Barr threatens him and tells him to leave. Rainey ignores him and snoops around, finding a weeping Marsha being held by a couple of Klansmen. He then confronts Barr and demands answers. Desperate, Barr names Hank as the culprit to the murder. Hank, stealing a sidearm from one of the Klansmen, shouts in fury damning everyone, and shoots his wife, which is followed by a police officer shooting him down with an automatic weapon, killing him. Scared and disillusioned, the rest of the Klansmen, many of them dropping their attire, leave the scene, leaving Barr, the grand wizard, to fend for himself. The police arrest Barr, and the film ends with Lucy dying in Marsha's arms, with Rainey comforting her.



Critical response[edit]

Film critic Bosley Crowther was disappointed with the screenplay. He wrote, "But, unfortunately, an all-too-familiar conventionality of elements and plot is evident in the screen play which Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks have prepared. The forces opposing the prosecutor line up just as you feel they will, his key witness fails him as you figure—at first, that is—and then she falls in line when she sees how horribly and unjustly her silence permits the villains to behave. The consequence is a smoothly flowing, mechanically melodramatic film, superficially forceful but lacking real substance or depth."[3]

Critic Dennis Schwartz believed the film trivialized the topic of bigotry. He wrote, "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 ... 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."[4]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952.
  2. ^ Storm Warning at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, March 3, 1951. Accessed: August 13, 2013.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, September 26, 2008. Accessed: August 13, 2013.

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