Tuesday, April 3, 2018

THE DORIS DAY BLOGATHON: Storm Warning (1951)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting, for the second year, The Doris Day Blogathon. The celebration of the beloved star runs from April 1st to the 3rd. Click HERE to read the tributes.

Band singer Doris Day made her film debut at age 26 in 1948s Romance on the High Seas. It was a musical comedy, and the majority of Doris' films over the next 20 years would be in the entertaining and light-hearted genre. Doris' versatility was never in doubt, but perhaps audiences preferred their Miss Day sunny side up. Her first drama for Warner Brothers was Young Man With a Horn and the studio planned on pairing her again with Lauren Bacall as her sister in Storm Warning to be released in 1951. Ms. Bacall had other plans having to do with accompanying her husband on a location shoot in Africa. In a stroke of brilliant casting Ginger Rogers, another versatile musical star was cast as the elder sister to Doris Day's character.

This look at Storm Warning has a major spoiler, although it is often cited as the answer to a question about Doris Day's film career, and the fate of her characters.

The script for Storm Warning was written by Daniel Fuchs (Criss Cross, The Hard Way, Love Me or Leave Me) and Richard Brooks (The Killers, Crossfire, Blackboard Jungle). It is a hard-hitting investigation of the Klan which is sometimes overwrought, as is the case when emotions are on high, yet thoroughly memorable. Director Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key) and cinematographer Carl Guthrie (All I Desire) paint the film with glorious noir touches throughout.

Witnesses. Note the police officer in the second story window.

Ginger Rogers plays Marsha Mitchell, a dress model who travels with a manufacturer's seller. In a vaguely southern town, Marsha ditches her job to visit with the kid sister she hasn't seen for a couple of years. It is ten o'clock at night, but inexplicably the bus stop and the diner across the street close up shop for the night. Alone and unable to get a cab, Marsha starts to walk the ten blocks to the bowling alley/diner where her sister Lucy, played by Doris Day, is employed.

Ginger Rogers silhouette in the dark.

Marsha is forced to hide from a mob which has dragged a man from the jail. The man, a reporter closing in on an expose of the Klan, is being beaten and then is shot to death. The mob was gowned in Ku Klux Klan robes, but some of the members remove their hoods and Marsha is not likely to forget their faces. Soon she will recognize the brutish face of her brother-in-law Hank played by Steve Cochran.

Ronald Reagan, Robert B. Williams, Richard Anderson

It is a murder where everyone from the cops at the station to District Attorney Burt Rainey played by Ronald Reagan know who is responsible, but they cannot be brought to justice. No one will testify out of fear of reprisals. The leader, Charlie Barr played by Hugh Sanders, is a prominent businessman whom no one will cross. The actual shooter, Hank Rice, is confident in the protection of the Klan.

Doris Day, Ginger Rogers

Shaken, Marsha finds comfort in reaching her sister and hopefully a welcome respite at her home.  The bowling alley is a busy place on this night and the earlier revelers will soon be joined by the Klan members who have just taken part in a heinous crime.

Doris Day, Steve Cochran, Ginger Rogers

When Hank joins Lucy and Marsha, his visiting sister-in-law is unable to hide her distaste when she realizes the sort of man her sister has married. Lucy, however, is pregnant and unwilling to accept that her husband is a murder. It must have been some sort of an accident.

Steve Cochran, Hugh Sanders

Hank lets his boss know about Marsha and what she witnessed, and brags that he has handled it, not fully realizing that the only reason Marsha plans to remain silent is to protect Lucy.

Ronald Reagan, Stuart Randall, Ginger Rogers

When the time stamp on Marsha's suitcase at the bus station alerts the District Attorney to her presence in the area at the time of the murder, Marsha thinks she has done right by Lucy by insisting she can't identify anyone because their faces were hidden. Marsha doesn't realize that the fact that the mob wore Klan robes is all the District Attorney needs to put her on the stand and get an indictment.

Reporters are not welcome in Rockpoint.

Most of the film takes place in the dark and gloom of night, but one of its outstanding scenes is in the busy middle of town and the courthouse on the day of the inquest. A reporter with a full crew has arrived and roams the packed streets commenting on the case and on the people.

Doris Day

Marsha believes she is protecting her sister when she lies on the stand, but she has only emboldened the criminals. Alone at home, packing to leave, Marsha is viciously attacked by Hank. Lucy witnesses this and agrees to leave with Marsha. Now feeling free to go to the District Attorney, Marsha is knocked out by a frightened Hank who takes her to a Klan meeting in the certainty that he will find support. At the meeting Marsha is being whipped for her defiance when Rainey and the police arrive, having been alerted by Lucy.

Ginger Rogers, Doris Day

The majority of the crowd flees like the cowards they are, and Charlie Barr fingers his stupid underling Hank Rice. Hank grabs a gun and in the melee, he kills his wife Lucy before the police gun him down. The blame, of course, lies squarely on the mob rule of the crooks, yet it is Marsha who feels the guilt for not speaking up when she had the chance.

This story of mob rule and personal responsibility is a strange mix of a crime story, a courtroom drama, and family melodrama. Young actress Doris Day never gives less than one hundred percent to her role. Talented dramatic actresses that they are, I would still like to have seen Doris Day and Ginger Rogers starring together in a musical comedy. Ah, what might have been.


  1. Day and Rogers in a musical would have been grand! However, this drama has intrigued me for years. It does sound a little overwrought, as you've said, but after reading this post, I'm REALLY curious. Some of those images are just stunning!

    Thanks so much for bringing this unusual Day film to my blogathon!

    1. My pleasure. The noir touches tend to elevate the movie. I was mesmerized when choosing screen caps.

      Thanks for hosting this blogathon.

  2. I just saw this film for the first time last year and wow! did it pack a punch. It certainly is memorable, perhaps even more so for featuring stars I generally equate with lighter, feel-good stories.

    1. It's true about the cast and a testament to their skill as actors that they give each script exactly what is needed.

  3. Doris Day and Ginger Rogers in a musical comedy is a lovely thought! I never thought of it before, but now that you suggest it, it makes me a little sad that they never did make one together.

    I always forget that she is in this one, but your post reminds me how atypical and intriguing the film is. Will definitely have to see this one again.

    1. I recall how unexpected I found this picture the first time I saw it. It didn't get a lot of television play (at least around here), but it does hold a fascination.

  4. Very interesting. I actually am not a huge fan of musicals but I've always loved Doris Day's non-musical and non-comedy films like Midnight Lace and Julie. This is one I haven't seen.

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog

    1. Glad it's on your radar. Young Doris impressed me, especially as a follow-up to Young Man With a Horn.

  5. I haven't seen this one in many years, but have become a Richard Brooks fan over the years and so would love to see it again. I have also become more of a Doris Day fan. I always liked her, but never appreciated her many talents (especially as a comedian) until the last decade.

    1. That's the joy of classic movies, the newfound appreciation we gain for folks over the years.

  6. I love Doris in a comedy or a drama, and I need to see this one – especially if it co-stars Ginger Rogers.

    LOVE the idea of Doris and Ginger starring in a musical comedy. If I ever get a hold of a time machine, you and I will go to Hollywood circa 1950 and see what we can do.

  7. Great review! This is a very special film more people need to see. Having Ginger and Doris in a musical comedy together would have been terrific, but I do love that these ladies, and Ronald Reagan, all known primarily for more lighthearted fare, could be so effective in a movie with socially conscious themes.

    1. Thank you. None of these actors bring anything less than their A game and that is what makes the movie so memorable. Steve Cochran has played his fair share (more than his fair share) of louts and thugs, but none of them is as flat out dumb as Hank Rice.

  8. both ginger Rogers and Doris Day are Christian scientists and Ginger from the Kansas City area grew up in Waldo and Independence the city of and Doris Day I'm not sure where she's from but they had a lot in common as friends in the music and it's film industry thought you all might be interested to know they're from the Kansas City Missouri area so was Joan Crawford so was Walt Disney I could go on and on lots of talent from Kansas City Missouri yeah it's overlooked

  9. Gina Jean Harlow was also from Kansas City I'll think of more as I go along The middle of this country has a lot of talent always has had Walt Disney junk Crawford Jean Harlow Ginger Rogers who else and now the comedy group Ted lasso star red red r u d d is from Kansas City too and the guy that plays the gay fell on modern family He's from Kansas City so I'm very proud to be a part of I wanted to be a singer and actress myself just got married young and had kids and as they say the rest is history just for your information j f y o



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