Monday, September 7, 2015

STORM FEAR (1955)

Theodora Productions, 88m 37s


In the Adirondack Mountains in the northeast of Upstate New York, a remote location is invaded by noir criminals on the run at Christmastime. Fred Blake (Dan Duryea) is a bitter and jealous man plagued by health issues, and his career as a writer has stalled. He lives with his wife Elizabeth (platinum blonde Jean Wallace) and their boy David (David Stollery), with the occasional presence of hired hand Hank (Dennis Weaver). The isolated family farmhouse is descended upon by Fred's younger brother Charlie (Cornel Wilde), who along with tramp Edna Rogers (Lee Grant) and nutcase Benjie (Steven Hill) just botched an $85,000 bank heist that claimed the life of a cop. Charlie has been slowed by a bullet in his leg, and the neglected housewife Elizabeth is right there to provide medical assistance. The sexual tension between the two is obvious throughout an intense bullet extraction sequence, during which little Davey gets to hold the lamp! The remaining narrative builds on the history between Elizabeth and Charlie and its grip on the present.



Trusted tropes of the gangster and noir films begin with the conflict between the "good" brother and the "bad" one. Each brother is rendered symbolically impotent, one by a limp, the other by unrequited love. A closely related theme, quite common to the film noir, is the lack of contentedness within the traditional family; everyone is somehow incomplete. Elizabeth delivers the definitive noir line of bleakness in conversation with her son, "Sometimes when you're young, well, you do things you shouldn't, things that you're ashamed of later on, and that you have to pay for these things maybe all your life." Another noir connection is the role "Uncle Charlie" plays in a rite of passage story, which recalls the function of the lead protagonist of the same name portrayed by Joseph Cotten in director Alfred Hitchcock's unforgettable noir SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). As Charlie assumes the role of dominant male in STORM FEAR, the captivity storyline of KEY LARGO (1948) leaps to mind as well. Also on hand is the dangerously unstable noir psychopath Benjie, the type of guy you never turn your back on, not even for a second, and the drunken gangster moll Edna with her beloved mink coat (Wilde's casting of Lee Grant was significant since she was blacklisted at the time). And like ROAD HOUSE (1948), ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), CRY VENGEANCE (1954) and NIGHTFALL (1957), STORM FEAR shows film noir concerns need not be confined to urban environments.



STORM FEAR marked the filmmaking debut of Cornel Wilde, perhaps best known today for directing and starring in THE NAKED PREY (1965), another film that allowed him to put his physique on full display, as he does throughout much of STORM FEAR. The screen adaptation of the 1954 novel STORM FEAR by Clinton Seeley was the first screenplay by Horton Foote, who would be called on to adapt Harper Lee's novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the filmed version released in 1962. Before lensing STORM FEAR, seasoned cinematographer Joseph LaShelle shot some of the most notable film noirs released by Twentieth Century Fox, i.e. LAURA (1944), FALLEN ANGEL (1945), ROAD HOUSE (1948), WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950).

Husband and wife team:  Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace

The second half of Jean Wallace's Hollywood career was defined by her marriage to Cornel Wilde in September of 1951. The two would appear in THE BIG COMBO (1955), one of the finest of film noirs and a product of Wilde's Theodora Productions, before the release of STORM FEAR later the same year. Later Wallace would be featured in a number of dramas from Theodora Productions directed by Wilde:  THE DEVIL'S HAIRPIN (1957), MARACAIBO (1958), BEACH RED (1967) and NO BLADE OF GRASS (1970).


A hybrid noir, STORM FEAR draws from the conventions of the film noir, gangster film, melodrama and Western. Such ambitions result in a lot of moving parts, not all of which come together without issue. Occasional moments of melodramatic outburst work against the film, so viewer expectations should be kept in check. This Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber offers a technically outstanding presentation, newly re-mastered in HD from beautiful source material framed at 1.85:1. The only extras are trailers for HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951), A BULLET FOR JOEY (1955) and WITNESS TO MURDER (1954).

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting film, including using music as a device to further blur the edges between genres. The first few bars in the opening sequence suggest a Western but the score then segues into classic noir. However, Western and noir are very alike in key elements, the idea of people making their own philosophical choices outside a conventional system of beliefs, the complexity of the women characters, the personification of the city or natural landscape as being integral to the narrative, the sense of doom and predestination even despite the conventional 'or contrived 'happy ending'. This is a is well-scripted, well-acted film, which within the confines of the period it was made, far outshines many similar made before or since. I find the acting particularly natural, with the four main characters, the antithesis of the 'nuclear family', most convincing. It needs to be seen and reviewed more often. All the very best, Sue

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  2. Enjoyed this tremendously. Gripping and finally very moving.

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