25-year old Day ventures into her first non-singing role...
After making a string of highly successful, light-hearted musicals at Warner Brothers, 25-year old Doris Day ventures into her first non-singing role, the dramatic "Storm Warning". The film is significant for several reasons, one, it is the only picture in which Doris Day dies, two, it dealt with a subject that was hard-hitting and raw, and three, Miss Day got the opportunity to work with her girlhood idol, the legendary Ginger Rogers and with the future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
We discover that Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) is a fashion model who arrives in a small Southern town to visit her pregnant sister, Lucy Rice (Doris Day). Arriving on a rainy night, she finds the streets totally deserted. Unable to secure a taxi, she decides to walk to her sister's place of employment. In route, Marsha observes a man being chased, then beaten and murdered. The hooded perpetrators are obviously members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hiding in a doorway, she sees the faces of two of them. Terrified, she later tells her sister about the horror she has witnessed. Marsha has never met her sister's husband, but as soon as she is introduced to him, she recognises him as one of the killers. Steve Cochran portrays Hank Rice, Lucy's husband. His performance is similar to the one he played in "White Heat", oversexed and desperate.
Reagan plays the local police chief, Burt Rainy, who is investigating the mob murder of the Northern reporter who was investigating the Klan. Lucy innocently informs Hank that her sister actually saw the attack. Shocked, Hank tells Charlie Barr (Hugh Sanders), a local official and head honcho of the local Klan, who becomes increasingly concerned whether Marsha will or won't talk. Rainy hears that Rogers witnessed the crime, but she is reluctant to reveal the fact that she actually saw the faces of two of them.
The Klan goes on trial for the killing and Marsha is asked to testify. To protect her sister, she lies on the stand, thwarting Rainy's last ditch opportunity to nail the Klan. Triumphantly, the Klan is not convicted for lack of evidence. When Marsha returns to her sister's house from the trial, she is confronted with a drunken Hank who is celebrating the Klan's victory. Reminiscent of the scene in "Streetcar Named Desire" with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, he viciously attempts to rape Marsha while his wife is out of the house. Lucy returns and drags Hank off her sister only to be thrown across the room. This attack on her sister prompts Marsha to threaten Hank that she intends, indeed, to tell what she knows to the police.
Marsha is kidnapped and taken to a Klan rally. The scene is eerie with crosses burning, men, women and children dressed in KKK attire while Marsha is bound, obviously subject to being executed. Rainey shows up and tries to put an end to the proceedings. During this dramatic scene, Lucy arrives to rescue her sister but is shot by her crazed husband by accident. She dies in Marsha's arms.
"Storm Warning" is strong stuff and I am puzzled as to why this has not been released on video or DVD. The picture has a film noir quality, for it is dark, marose and very disturbing. Darkly handsome Steve Cochran gives a crazed, swaggering performance as Hank. Ginger Rogers is good as Marsha and showed what years of acting before the camera was all about. Reagan did an adequate job as the investigator and Doris Day wavered between good and inept. This was her first dramatic non-singing role and it showed her inexperience. She faired much better in her earlier appearance in the dramatic musical, "Young Man With A Horn".
The important novelty about this film is that you saw people of colour walking down the street! This is something rarely seen in most forties and fifties films. Their inclusion gave an extra feeling of authenticity to the film. The reviews were generally good to excellent. The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "A sombre but stirring and thought-provoking story, "Storm Warning" spotlights two new dramatic stars, Doris Day and Steve Cochran...Cochran is a standout...lovely Doris is very convincing as the loving wife..." Film Bulletin said, "Every element that went into the filming of "Storm Warning" is of the best calibre. The performances, notably those of Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day and Steve Cochran, are superb." Newsweek raved about Day's acting saying "Surprise of the occasion is the successful casting of the singer, Doris Day in a straight role that calls for considerable dramatic assurance."
The direction by Stuart Heisler and the screenplay by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks provided all that was needed to make this an exciting film. The supporting work by Hugh Sanders, Lloyd Gough and Ned Glass was strong. Praise must also go to the cinematography by Carl Guthrie whose photography helped sustain the film noir quality that was prevalent in so many Warner films.
Ralph McKnight, New York, March 2002
"Storm Warning" it is the only picture in which Doris Day dies.