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Sunday, December 19, 2010

STORM WARNING (1951)

Ginger Rogers stops off to visit her sister (Doris Day) and stumbles right into a Ku Klux Klan murder. Will she help D. A. Ronnie Reagan break the town’s Code-of-Silence or will she protect the triggerman, Doris’s new husband Steve Cochran? This modestly-scaled, hot-topic film was something of a throwback to the muckraking expos√© pics Warners made in the ‘30. But the post-war move toward greater realism & shooting on location played havoc with dramatic formulas that worked best within the stylistic unity of a studio-bound √¶sthetic. So, taking on the KKK without hearing a trace of a Southern accent* kills verisimilitude. And having a white victim as stand-in for Blacks, Catholics or Jews feels like a dramatic avoidance, while the domestic drama plays like an interruption. (It also wouldn’t hurt if Ginger could settle on a single makeup & hairstyle.) Still, the film’s not a whitewash or a washout, helmer Stuart Heisler makes a professional job of it (even grabbing a hunk of local color in a bowling alley), journeyman lenser Carl Guthrie outperforms himself with some scarifying nighttime shooting and Reagan really comes thru in a good part. Watch him give Ginger a shove in the courthouse basement. Yikes!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Keep your eyes tight on Hugh Sanders’ KKK leader. He’s entirely dubbed. But with his own voice! Had he used a southern accent before studio execs got cold feet? Just a thought.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The fine Humphrey Bogart meller BLACK LEGION/’36 handles similar issues in classic Hollywood studio-lot style while THE PHENIX CITY STORY/’55 also takes up the cause without being stylistically divided against itself thanks to Phil Karlson’s typically smart, economical helming using many of the story's real locations.

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