Storm Warning (1951) – full review!
Directed by Stuart Heisler (who’d just received his only recognition from the Academy a Special Effects Oscar nomination he’d shared with Walter Wanger for Tulsa (1949)) and written by Richard Brooks and Danial Fuchs (who would go on to earn their own nominations) elements of this solid drama might remind some of a much more famous Elia Kazan-Tennessee Williams drama released six months later that same year A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) though this one’s main emphasis is the Ku Klux Klan aka the KKK. Both feature a sister that comes to visit another who’s married to a Southern male brute causing conflict (and more without spoiling either film). Ginger Rogers (somewhat miscast) plays Marsha Mitchell a New York dress model who arrives on the 10 PM bus in Rock Point to stopover and visit her sister on the way to Riverport. Shortly thereafter she witnesses a murder: some white robed white hooded persons drag another man out of the town’s jail; their prisoner escapes and runs for their life from the gang but is shot before rounding the corner of a building falling right in front of Martha who then hides in a darkened doorway; she then sees two men their hoods off come to inspect the body and verify that the man is dead. The gang disperses and Martha runs 10 blocks to the recreation center where her sister Lucy Rice (Doris Day her first non-singing role) works. A shaken Martha learns that Lucy is pregnant and later meets her truck driver husband Hank (Steve Cochran) who was one of the men Martha had seen earlier; she learns later that the other’s name is Charlie Barr (Hugh Sanders) Hank’s boss and Grand Dragon of the local KKK. Ronald Reagan plays Burt Rainey a lifetime Rock Point resident and its prosecutor who decides he finally has the witness he needs in Martha an outsider presumably not afraid of retribution to indict the Klan and end their activities in his town.
However Charlie is smart enough to know that his organization isn’t safe until Martha leaves town and that Hank is too dumb to handle it so he threatens her himself. If only for her sister Martha agrees to dummy up when questioned again by Burt at the coroner’s (Walter Baldwin) inquest. Though he (and the visiting press) is letdown the rest of the town celebrates into the night; Hank who’d actually been the triggerman is the most rowdy of all. When Martha whose bus doesn’t leave until later that evening comes to the recreation center to get Lucy’s house key in order to pack her things she has a confrontation with Burt who later his small brain additionally inhibited by alcohol makes inappropriate advances towards her. Lucy arrives in time to interrupt his attempted rape of her sister realizes what she’s married and promises Martha to leave him before she’s knocked down and out by her husband in a struggle. His Klan buddies arrive to take him to that night’s meeting and Hank decides to drag Martha to the affair where she’s whipped in front of a huge group of members that includes women and children!
Even though the Charlie Barr character defends it as a necessary service (without them women like Martha wouldn’t be safe to walk the streets at night) much of the film’s dialogue delivers the requisite indictment of the KKK and its members too scared to act without the courage of numbers or show their faces (hence the hoods). But there’s a twist – Barr’s real motivation is financial: there’s real money for him in the dues etc. such that he’s portrayed like a corrupt union boss or worse (a capitalist;-) In the end while Burt has come to save the day and Martha Barr’s true self centered (vs. all for one) nature is revealed to all and an enraged & disillusioned Hank ends up killing another this time (accidentally) Lucy before the rest of the group wises up and runs for cover as the Grand Dragon pleads for them to stick together.