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September 16, 2006

The "Gipper" Saves the Day


Storm Warning
Stuart Heisler - 1951
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD


Law and Order
Nathan Juran - 1953
Universal Studios Region 1 DVD

Storm Warning is like an alarmist editorial that thinks its saying something, but close analysis reveals that after the sound and fury, nothing much is said at all. Lauren Bacall was originally to play the travelling dress model caught in a murder conspiracy. She turned down the role because she wanted to be with Humphrey Bogart while he was shooting The African Queen, at least officially. Instead we have the less slender Ginger Rogers, looking all of her forty years, playing a model, as well as older sister to a prematurely haggard Doris Day. Rogers walks down the dark streets of a small town in "the South" where she accidentally witness members of the Ku Klux Klan dragging a man out of jail and shooting him. One of the two men Rogers can identify turns out to be her brother-in-law. Rogers has to choose between telling laid back D.A. Ronald Reagan the truth, or protecting Doris Day who loves Steve Cochran in spite of his hard drinking, trigger happy ways.

The indictment of "the Klan" in Storm Warning is primarily that it is used as a money making tool by some of the town leaders to dupe some fellow citizens, and to keep others in line. The victim in the movie is a white reporter. Except for some crowd scenes, there are no blacks in Storm Warning, nor is there mention of what the Klan represents. I recalled the book City of Quartz by Mike Davis, which mentioned that Chester Himes was on the Warner Brothers lot as a potential screenwriter, until Jack Warner order him from the studio. Storm Warning was co-written by Richard Brooks, who's novel The Brick Foxhole, about the murder of a gay soldier, was filmed as Crossfire, about the murder of a Jewish soldier. Ronald Reagan is so easy going throughout the film, as if he alone understood that while the actions of the Ku Klux Klan may be criminal, ultimately nobody in Hollywood really gives a damn.

Law and Order may have turned out to be the most appropriate title, given Reagan's post Hollywood career. His second film after his tenure at Warner Brothers expired is a remake of a film of the same title starring Johnny Mack Brown. The narrative is almost similar to Storm Warning as Reagan uses his position to enforce laws in protecting others from mob rule and keeping an eye on unscrupulous capitalists. While not as artistically as interesting as Storm Warning with its dramatic black and white photography, the colorful Law and Order at least has the courage of its modest convictions. The primary pleasures are in seeing a brunette Dorothy Malone as the bar owner Reagan loves, an early perfomance by Dennis Weaver as a tough talking bad guy, and Russell Johnson as Reagan's volatile youngest brother. By most standards, Law and Order is a forgettable film. History has made the image of Ronald Reagan in this film iconic.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 16, 2006 01:24 PM