Cornel Wilde - 1955
KL Studio Classics BD Region A
Not a exactly a classic, but Storm Fear is worth seeing for some of its counter-intuitive casting. I wasn't prepared to see Dan Duryea, usually cast as a smarmy, sadistic weasel cast here as a hypersensitive writer in ill health. Duryea is so sick that he walks around the house with a big woolen scarf around his throat, and is on the verge of coughing and wheezing off this mortal coil at any moment. What kind of writer is he? It's never clear whether Duryea's character writes novels, inspirational bromides, or self-help books, just that he had something published about four years earlier. Duryea also plays husband to Jean Wallace, as he says later, because it was the noble thing to do, hinting that he got a pregnant Wallace on the rebound after she's ditched by true love Cornel Wilde.
And Cornel Wilde, casting himself as the anti-hero, a bank robber on the lam. A very skinny Dennis Weaver is the unlikely hero. Steven Hill gets an "introducing" credit for his first significant screen appearance as one of Wilde's partners in crime, a very nattily dressed thug who Wilde attempts to keep on a short leash lest he impulsively pummels or shoots anyone considered in the way. Hill's character tries to come of with ways to keep the stolen money for himself, and has no sympathy for anyone. Best of all is Lee Grant, as a peroxide blonde moll whose relationship to Wilde and Hill is never made clear. Her mink coat is her prized possession. Grant has the best line in the film when she pours some whiskey in a glass and proclaims that she can't drink her milk straight. Grant may look cheap and trashy, but when Duryea and Wallace's eleven year old son sets his eyes on her, it's clear that adolescent hormones are starting to jump.
Most of the film is about this volatile mix of characters stuck in a mountain cabin during a December snow storm. Aside from a glimpse of a calendar, there's a big tree in the house, decorated with tinsel. This is where Duryea and Wallace call home, with a crank telephone, and the home entertainment center consisting of a radio, a gift from the love-struck Weaver. The opening scene establishes family tensions with Duryea's son having a closer relationship with Weaver than with his purported father, and the arguments Duryea has with Wallace, disturbed by the music from the radio. Duryea and Wilde are brothers, one a failed writer, the other, not much of a crook. There's no love between brothers, husband and wife, or the hoodlum trio. It's not a question of whether somebody's going to get killed, but an inevitable who and when.
This was Cornel Wilde's directorial debut, and unsurprisingly, stronger regarding the acting than in any kind of visual style. There are some nice images via cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, such as a close ups alternating between Wilde and Wallace while a bullet is crudely extracted from Wilde's legs, with Wilde flexing his muscles gripping the headboard of a bed. Also, Lee Grant looking up at a mountain path, lying in snow, ankle broken, unable to move, with wads of money at arms length, abandoned by her partners. Wilde gave Elmer Bernstein freedom to compose a score that weaves between jazzy riffs and abstract percussion. The adapted screenplay was by Horton Foote, his first theatrical film credit, hardly a harbinger of the acclaim to come just a few years later.