Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Storm Warning

During TCM's Star of the Month salute to Doris Day a few weeks back, one of the dramas they showed was Storm Warning. With Ronald Reagan being the male lead, the movie has received a DVD release as part of a Reagan box set. It's certainly worth a look.

Day isn't the star; that honor goes to Ginger Rogers. Rogers plays Marsha, a fashion model of the sort who worked with traveling salesmen, back in the days when representatives from clothing companies went to various department stories trying to sell the companies' clothes. She and her salesman companion (who is only seen briefly in the openoing scene) are travelling through the South by bus, with the bus scheduled to stop in a town where Marsha's sister Lucy (Doris Day) lives. Marsha hasn't seen Lucy in quite a long time, in fact, the two haven't met since Lucy got married to Hank (Steve Cochran). So Marsha wants to stop for a day and meet Lucy.

What Marsha finds is at first mysterious and then shocking. She's looking for a taxi at the bus station, but the taxi driver lies about being a taxi driver and refuses to take her, at which point the bus station closes early, and Marsha is forced to walk to the bowling alley/entertainment center where Lucy works. When Marsha gets to the town square, she finds a bunch of guys in white robes and hoods -- obviously the Klan -- killing a journalist who was writing an unflattering exposé of the Klan. Thankfully, the Klansmen didn't see Marsha: she saw two of their faces when they stupidly took off their hoods; she'd probably be in danger if they knew they had been witnessed by an outsider.

Indeed, it's only the outsiders the Klan have to fear. Ronald Reagan, who was mentioned at the beginning of the post, plays Burt Rainey, the prosecuting attorney. He doesn't like the Klan and what they've done to his town and state, but for the most part he's powerless to stop them. The Klan are either actively supported by people in town, or have intimidated the non-supporters into remaining silent. Marsha tells Lucy she saw the murder, which means that she's going to have to see Rainey, who is leading the inquest, and tell him what she knows. This becomes problematic when she finally meets Lucy's husband Hank. Hank, in fact, is one of the two Klansmen she saw without his hood! What's a sister-in-law to do?

Storm Warning is a pretty good, if slightly preachy movie. When watching a movie like this, it's easy enough to say smugly that we would stand up to the bad guys if we were in Marsha's place. But, as can be seen in a film based on real life like The Phenix City Story, we know the reality is that most people will just do the minimum they have to, if that. Rogers plays that dilemma fairly convincingly. Reagan really doesn't have that much to do here. He's supposed to be the good guy, and his real-life affability makes him a natural to play a role that calls for uprightness without much emotion. Doris Day is almost a spare tire here; she's almost forgettable next to Rogers. Cochran is the bad guy, and maybe he overplays it a bit, but he looks brutish but stupid here, and plays it enjoyably well. The cast rises above the social commentary, although they're also helped out a bit by an ending that's a bit astonishing.

Storm Warning isn't perfect by any means, but it's not a bad little film.

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