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Storm Warning (1950 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Storm Warning
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStuart Heisler
Written by
Produced byJerry Wald
CinematographyCarl Guthrie
Edited byClarence Kolster
Music byDaniele Amfitheatrof
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • December 20, 1950 (1950-12-20) (Pittsburgh)[1]
  • February 10, 1951 (1951-02-10) (U.S.)
Running time
93 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.25 million (US/Canada rentals)[3]

Storm Warning is a 1950[i] American thriller film noir[12] starring Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, and Steve Cochran. Directed by Stuart Heisler, it follows a fashion model (Rogers) traveling to a small Southern town to visit her sister (Day), who witnesses the brutal murder of an investigative journalist by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The original screenplay was written by Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs.

Filmed in Corona, California in late 1949, Storm Warning premiered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1950, before receiving an expanded theatrical release in the United States on February 10, 1951. The film earned $1.25 million in North America, and was a box-office flop.[13]

In the years since its original release, it has been subject to analysis by film scholars as an allegory for the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations, while both contemporary and modern critics have noted that its depiction of the KKK does not address the organization's predominant racist origins. Despite this, the film's performances (particularly Rogers’, appearing in a rare dramatic role) and direction have been widely lauded.[2][14][15]

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Marsha Mitchell, a dress model from New York City, is traveling by bus during an extended job for her employer during Christmastime of 1949. En route, she decides to spend the night in the rural Southern town of Rock Point to visit her newlywed sister, Lucy Rice, who has relocated there. Within minutes of entering the town she notices unwelcoming and evasive behavior from the townspeople. As she walks down the almost-pitch-black main street she hears loud noises coming from the police station. She hides and witnesses a drunken KKK mob, which murders a man whom they had just broken out of jail. The man untangles himself and only manages to run briefly before getting cut down by gunfire. The mob, slightly apprehensive, approaches the fallen man, arguing among themselves. Marsha gets a good look at two of the men, who have removed their hoods.

After the mob quickly leaves the scene Marsha runs to the nearby bowling alley, where her sister works. Lucy quickly notices the shocked and horrified look on her sister's face. Marsha tells her about the murder she witnessed, which causes Lucy to tell her about the undercover work of Walter Adams, who, she believes, must have been the slain man. She explains that Adams arrived in town recently and got a job with the phone company, but he was secretly a journalist, writing critical material about the town's klavern. The police decided to put an end to his reporting and arrested him on a false charge of driving while intoxicated.

Lucy takes Marsha to her home and encourages her to tell her husband, Hank, about what she witnessed. However, Marsha is shocked when he arrives and she recognizes him as one of the Klan members. Within minutes, while Marsha and Lucy are alone, Marsha tells her sister. Hank, eavesdropping, denies this. However, he is unable to hold his own against Marsha's insistence, and confesses. He sobs and says that he was drunk and was forced to go with the other men to the scene, and did not intend for the man to die. According to Hank, the men simply wanted to stop Adams from smearing their town. Hank desperately tries to persuade Marsha to remain silent for the sake of his life and his marriage to her sister, who is pregnant. Lucy forgives her husband and decides that he was simply a part of something beyond his control. Marsha, still viewing him as a vile person, reluctantly agrees to leave town on the first bus in the morning and forget about the incident.

District Attorney Burt Rainey arrives at the murder scene and asks the police about how they could let a mob break through their doors and kidnap one of their prisoners, reminding them of their duty to protect the inmates. They claim that they were simply outnumbered; Rainey, however, is skeptical of that excuse and suggests that they were accomplices. He then arrives at the bowling alley and questions Charlie Barr, the Imperial Wizard of the town's KKK, but he gets no answer. He then learns about Marsha and requires her to meet him in his office the next morning. Many townsfolk try to dissuade Rainey from investigating the case, for fear of his destroying the town's reputation and economy.

Rogers (center) in the film's finale

Rainey questions Marsha at his office and gets a half-truth – that she saw Klansmen but did not get a look at their faces because of their hoods. Rainey is satisfied that the mere fact of her having seen Klansmen is enough to warrant a full investigation. He hands her a subpoena for the inquest, which will take place that afternoon. Under pressure from both her sister and the Klansmen, she decides to lie in court, allowing the coroner's jury to decide that Adams died at the hands of one or more assailants unknown.

The KKK, along with the sympathetic locals, celebrates at the bowling alley. Disgusted with herself, Marsha packs up her belongings and plans to leave. However, Hank, drunk, arrives home and attempts to rape her, but Lucy appears and interrupts. Lucy finally denounces him, after which Marsha states she has rethought her testimony, and that she will turn him in to Rainey and the police. Furious, he kidnaps her and takes her to a KKK rally, where a functionary starts to whip Marsha until Lucy, Rainey, and the police arrive. Barr orders his men to hide Marsha and keep her quiet. While Rainey stands before Barr, the latter threatens him and tells him to leave. Rainey ignores him and finds a weeping Marsha in the custody of the Klansmen. He then confronts Barr. Desperate, Barr names Hank as the murderer. Hank, stealing a sidearm from one of the Klansmen, shouts in fury, condemning everyone, and shoots his wife. A cop then shoots Hank with an automatic weapon, killing him. Scared and disillusioned, the rest of the Klansmen, many of whom drop their costumes, flee the scene, leaving Barr to fend for himself. The police arrest Barr as Lucy dies in Marsha's arms, while a burning cross collapses before them.




The film contains themes of bigotry, violence against women, and familial dysfunction.[18] Michael Rogin notes that Rogers's and Day's characters in the film are both punished for their familial loyalty as well as their sexuality, citing Rogers's character's self-assured romantic rejection of a salesman in the film's opening scene, contrasted with Day's character, who remains "in thrall to the Klan thug she marries."

Hollywood Blacklist interpretations

Film scholar Jeff Smith interprets Storm Warning as an allegory for the Hollywood blacklist, citing its production at the height of the Red Scare.[19] Smith also notes the film's oblique references to investigative forces in Washington, D.C. and the northern states, who are subjects of derision from the local klansmen, concluding that the film represents a "paean to HUAC that might easily be read as a defense of the investigations themselves."[20] Smith views Rogers's character as emblematic of witnesses who refused to cooperate with the HUAC investigations, but concludes that the film overall "plays a game of "hide and seek" in appearing to both reveal and conceal the possibility of allegorical readings."[19]

Rogin made similar observations of the film's treatment of the Ku Klux Klan as merely a "racket", adding that it "wants to warn against a violent secret conspiracy without raising the specter of racial injustice," and ultimately interprets Storm Warning as an anti-Communist film.[21]

Depiction of the Ku Klux Klan

Despite its focus on the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that is historically racist, the film makes no direct references to the subject,[14] and only a small number of African Americans are depicted in the film, appearing during the expansive crowd sequences.[15] Moira Finnie, writing for Turner Classic Movies, notes that, in addition to omitting references to racism, the film also fails to highlight anti-Catholicism or anti-Semitism in its depiction of the Ku Klux Klan.[22]



The film's original screenplay was written by Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs.[15] Producer Jerry Wald had originally asked Fred Zinnemann to direct the film, but Zinnemann was unable to due to prior obligations.[15] Instead, Wald hired Stuart Heisler as director.[15]


Ginger Rogers (left) was cast in the film after Lauren Bacall (right) violated her contract with Warner Bros. by refusing the role

Warner Bros. originally intended for Lauren Bacall to star in the film, but she declined the role, and was put on suspension by Warner Bros. for her defiance.[4] Bacall's motive for turning down the role was reported at the time to be a financial decision rather than a political one.[23] Commenting to the press, Bacall stated: "I am neither a puppet nor a chattel of Warner Bros. studio to do with as it sees fit."[4] She was subsequently released from her contract with Warner Bros. for her refusal to take the role, and Ginger Rogers was cast in the part.[4] Ronald Reagan, who was cast as District Attorney Burt Rainey, was sent articles by the film's producer, Jerry Wald, about fascism and the assassination of Huey Long in preparation for the role.[15]

Alfred Hitchcock was sufficiently impressed by Doris Day’s dramatic performance in Storm Warning to cast her in his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.[15]


Principal photography took place on location in Corona, California, in the fall of 1949.[4] After production was completed in January 1950, Rogers stated that the film's tight shooting schedule had exhausted her.[24] The film had a tentative working title of Storm Center, until it was officially changed to Storm Warning in February 1950.[25]


Promotion and box office

A screenshot from the film's trailer, with a tagline highlighting its focus on the Ku Klux Klan

Storm Warning had its world premiere in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1950.[1] The premiere was sponsored by The Pittsburgh Press's Old Newsboys organization, who utilized the event to generate fundraising for disabled children.[1] The following month, it screened in Miami Beach, Florida on January 17, 1951, where Rogers made a public appearance promoting the film, with earnings of ticket sales supporting the Variety Children's Hospital of Greater Miami.[26]

The film's theatrical release expanded wide on February 10, 1951.[4] By the end of the year, it had earned $1.25 million in North American rentals,[3] but was generally regarded as a box-office flop.[13]

Critical response


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, though admiring Warner's "passion for social crusading", was disappointed with the screenplay, observed that "an all-too-familiar conventionality of elements and plot is evident in the screen play which Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks have prepared. The forces opposing the prosecutor line up just as you feel they will, his key witness fails him as you figure—at first, that is—and then she falls in line when she sees how horribly and unjustly her silence permits the villains to behave. The consequence is a smoothly flowing, mechanically melodramatic film, superficially forceful but lacking real substance or depth.[27] Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times praised the performances, citing Rogers's dramatic portrayal as a strong point, but summarized: "Compared with some of the powerful exposés sponsored by Warners, this must be classified as a minor effort because it is a case practically of shooting flies with cannon balls at this late date. That doesn't diminish the fact that it is an exciting picture in its way. It simply lacks the vitality that goes with reality plus importance."[28]

Modern assessment

Critic Dennis Schwartz wrote in 2008 that the film trivialized the topic of bigotry, writing that it treats "the serious subject of race hatred with an inadequate depiction of the KKK, as it pays more attention to the melodrama than to any message. Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key/Dallas/Tulsa) tries to weave a well-intentioned anti-Klan film by working into the plot various forms of violence and intimidation the KKK exerts on a small Southern town ... It has the look and spark of the usual Warner Bros. crime drama, but delivers the public safety message that Americans won't or shouldn't tolerate in their neck of the woods a thuggish organization like the KKK (sort of like their 'crime doesn't pay' messages they leave with their formulaic bloody gangster pics). Surprisingly the racial hate message of the Klan is never touched upon. These Ku Klux Klan members seem to be only interested in keeping outsiders away from their town."[29]

Film scholar Imogen Sara Smith praised the film in 2014 as "beautifully directed by Stuart Heisler", but criticized it for borrowing plot elements from A Streetcar Named Desire as well as for its failure to address the KKK's racist history, instead focusing on the singular murder of a journalist.[14] Critic Michael F. Keaney similarly notes that the film lacks realism due to its excision of racism in the narrative, as well as that its characters do not speak with a Southern accent, but concludes that, "despite these shortcomings, the tightly woven script and solid acting make this an enjoyable film."[2]

In the 2010s, David Sterritt of Turner Classic Movies praised the film's performances as "terrific", citing Rogers's as "best of all... she projects strength and vulnerability with equal skill," adding that both Rogers and Day "outshine Reagan and Cochran."[15] Like Imogen Sara Smith, Sterritt concedes that the film's character of Hank "seems too obviously modeled" on that of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.[15]

Home media

Warner Home Entertainment released the film on DVD as part of the Ronald Reagan Signature Collection in August 2006.[30] The Warner Archive Collection released the film on Blu-ray for the first time on April 25, 2023.[31]

It has been shown on the Turner Classic Movies programme Noir Alley with Eddie Muller.


  1. ^ While some sources such as the American Film Institute classify the film as a 1951 production[4] (the year in which it had its first wide theatrical release), this is technically incorrect as it was first released to the public on December 20, 1950.[1] Numerous sources support the year of 1950.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Uncredited role.


  1. ^ a b c d "Premiere Tonight Highlights Press Old Newsboys Drive". The Pittsburgh Press. December 20, 1950. p. 1 – via
  2. ^ a b c Keaney 2015, p. 301.
  3. ^ a b "Top Grossers of 1951". Variety. January 2, 1952. p. 70. Retrieved August 24, 2021 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Storm Warning at the American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  5. ^ Armstrong 2015, p. 129.
  6. ^ Booker 2021, p. 418.
  7. ^ Keaney 2015, p. 403.
  8. ^ Gabbard & Luhr 2008, p. 103.
  9. ^ Langman & Ebner 2001, p. 92.
  10. ^ Smith 2014b, p. 2.
  11. ^ "Storm Warning (1950)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023.
  12. ^ LeMay 2021, p. 301.
  13. ^ a b Rogin 1987, p. 262.
  14. ^ a b c Smith 2014a, pp. 90–91.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sterritt, David. "Storm Warning". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on August 16, 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Parish 1974, p. 253.
  17. ^ "Storm Warning: Overview". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on September 12, 2016.
  18. ^ Keaney 2015, pp. 301–302.
  19. ^ a b Smithb 2014, p. 127.
  20. ^ Smithb 2014, pp. 122, 127.
  21. ^ Rogin 1987, pp. 259–262.
  22. ^ Finnie, Moira (January 8, 2009). "A Storm Warning Named Desire? Maybe a Movie Called Wishful Thinking…". Movie Morlocks. Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013.
  23. ^ Smithb 2014, p. 122.
  24. ^ Carroll, Harrison (January 26, 1950). "Behind the Scenes in Hollywood". Republican and Herald. p. 19 – via
  25. ^ "Ginger Rogers Stars in 'Storm Warning'". Long Beach Press Telegram. February 21, 1950. p. 13 – via
  26. ^ "Ginger Rogers Due In Person For 'Storm Warning' Premiere". Miami Herald. January 14, 1951. p. 11-F – via
  27. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 3, 1951). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Storm Warning,' New Warners Film on Klan Violence, Opens at the Strand". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023.
  28. ^ Schallert, Edwin (January 27, 1971). "Picture of Klan Evils Has Power". Los Angeles Times. p. 10 – via
  29. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (September 26, 2008). "Storm Warning". Ozus' World Movie Reviews. Archived from the original on November 5, 2016.
  30. ^ "Storm Warning: Releases". AllMovie. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023.
  31. ^ "Storm Warning Blu-ray (Warner Archive Collection)". April 25, 2023. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023.


  • Armstrong, Julie, ed. (2015). The Cambridge Companion to American Civil Rights Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-316-24038-0.
  • Booker, M. Keith (2021). Historical Dictionary of American Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-538-13012-4.
  • Gabbard, Krin; Luhr, William, eds. (2008). Screening Genders. Rutgers, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-813-54340-6.
  • Keaney, Michael F. (2015). Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940-1959. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-49155-1.
  • Langman, Larry; Ebner, David (2001). Hollywood's Image of the South: A Century of Southern Films. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-31886-3.
  • LeMay, Michael C. (2021). First Amendment Freedoms: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-440-86930-3.
  • Parish, James Robert (1974). The RKO Gals. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House. ISBN 978-0-870-00246-5.
  • Rogin, Michael (1987). Ronald Reagan The Movie: And Other Episodes in Political Demonology. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06469-0.
  • Smith, Imogen Sara (2014a). In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-48908-4.
  • Smith, Jeff (2014b). Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist: Reading the Hollywood Reds. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95851-7.

External links

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