Storm Warning

Storm Warning Ad, 1950

Doris Day gets to work with her childhood idol, Ginger Rogers

After making a few successful, light-hearted musicals at Warner Brothers, 25-year old 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 her character dies; two, it deals with a subject that was hard-hitting and raw; and three, 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.

Marsha Mitchell (Rogers) is a fashion model who arrives in a small Southern town to visit her pregnant sister, Lucy Rice (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 murdered. The hooded perpetrators are members of the Ku Klux Klan. Hiding in a doorway, she sees the faces of two men who have removed their hoods. 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.

Doris Day and Ginger Rogers in Storm Warning.

Doris Day and Ginger Rogers, Storm Warning (1950).

The local district attorney, Burt Rainy (Reagan) is investigating the Klan and this murder. Lucy innocently informs Hank that her sister actually saw the attack. Shocked, Hank tells Charlie Barr (Hugh Sanders), a town official and head of the local Klan, who becomes increasingly concerned about whether Marsha will or won’t talk. Rainy hears that Marsha witnessed the crime, and she reluctantly reveals to him that she knows the identity of one of the murderers.

There is a murder trial and Marsha, as the key witness, is called to testify. To protect her sister, however, she lies on the stand, thwarting Rainy’s opportunity to convict the Klan. When she returns to Lucy’s house from the trial, she is met by 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 attempts to rape Marsha while his wife is out of the house. When Lucy returns and there is a violent three-way confrontation, Marsha threatens Hank that she now intends to cooperate with the police.

Marsha is kidnapped and taken to a Klan rally. The scene is eerie with crosses burning, people dressed in KKK attire, and Marsha being bound, obviously in preparation for her execution. During this dramatic scene, Lucy arrives to rescue her sister, but is shot by her crazed husband and dies in Marsha’s arms.

Steve Cochran, Doris Day, Ginger Rogers, Storm Warning.

Steve Cochran, Doris Day, Ginger Rogers, Storm Warning.

Storm Warning is strong stuff and has a film noir quality – dark, morose, and very disturbing. Cochran gives a swaggering performance as Hank. Rogers is good as Marsha and showed what years of acting before the camera was all about. Reagan does an adequate job in his role. This was Doris Day’s first non-singing role, she acquitted herself well but she was better in her earlier appearance in the dramatic musical, Young Man With A Horn.

The novelty in this film is that you see people of color walking down the street!  Rarely seen in most forties and fifties films, this gives an extra feeling of authenticity to the picture. Stuart Heisler’s direction and the screenplay by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks provides all that is needed to make this an exciting film. The supporting work by Hugh Sanders, Lloyd Gough and Ned Glass is strong. Praise must also go to Carl Guthrie, whose photography helps sustain the film noir quality that was prevalent in so many Warner films.

Ralph McKnight, New York

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“Ginger Rogers returns to Warner’s for this endeavor and finds a dressing room of roses welcoming her from a crew who think highly of their star. Ginger plunges into pre-production activities with wardrobe fittings, camera tests, and makeup sessions like the professional she is. When I found Storm Warning, I was in seventh heaven. It is tense and menacing. Ginger and Steve Cochran put in stellar performances. Steve nearly steals the movie from Ginger with his performance of the Neanderthal KKK murdering husband of Doris Day.

Doris is believable as the naïve wife who loves her husband even after she finds out about his affiliation with the Klan. Ginger spends a good portion of the film trying to help Doris see the light that her husband is no good and not worth wasting her life on even if she is carrying his child. Ronald Reagan’s performance is adequate as the district attorney. Storm Warning was a daring film for its time and was banned in the South and condemned by some as communistic, which is absurd”. – Ginger Rogers Tribute

 Steve Cochran, Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers at the Miami Beach premiere of Storm Warning.

Major Albert Warner, Steve Cochran, Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers at the Miami Beach premiere of Storm Warning, Jan 1951.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “A somber but stirring and thought-provoking story, Storm Warning spotlights two new dramatic stars, Doris Day and Steve Cochran. Cochran is a standout and 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 caliber. The performances, notably those of Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day and Steve Cochran, are superb.”

Newsweek raved about Day’s acting saying, “The surprise of the occasion is the successful casting of the singer, Doris Day in a straight role that calls for considerable dramatic assurance.

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