Storm Warning, a hard-hitting 1951 drama that explores some very intense issues, including the ugly blight of the Ku Klux Klan, is definitely not a feel-good movie. Directed by Stuart Heisler, it stars Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, and Steve Cochran. Our family chose to watch this last night in honor of Doris Day's 87th birthday; however, it's really Ginger's movie. She gets top billing, and she more than steals the show. She's totally fabulous, and since my husband adores Ginger and was in need of a fix, we chose to watch Storm Warning. But even though it was totally Ginger's movie, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, and Steve Cochran were all terrific in their roles. Really, if anyone thinks Doris was all musicals and comedies, this is one of several movies they need to watch in order to be enlightened.
The story begins when Marsha Mitchell (Ginger), while on a business trip, stops off in the small Southern town of Rockpoint in order to visit her sister Lucy (Doris). Lucy has recently gotten married to Hank Rice (Steve Cochran), whom Marsha has never met before. So, late one evening, she steps off the bus and into a horrifying new world.
Marsha barely gets out of the bus depot before all the businesses nearby turn off their lights and shut down. The few people she runs into are unfriendly and unhelpful; in fact, the cab driver won't even give her a lift. So, after quickly checking her large suitcase at the bus station, Marsha begins the long walk to Lucy's place of employment. Within minutes, though, she hears shouts and then watches a lynch mob attacking a man, even shooting him in the back and killing him. As Marsha hides in the shadows of a building, she gets a clear view of the mob; although most remained in their white-hooded Ku Klux Klan robes, two of the men...one of them being the man who fired the deadly shots...have removed their hoods, and Marsha is able to see their faces clearly.
Sickened by what she has witnessed, Marsha is extremely distraught when she finally connects with her sister. But she is even more distraught when she is introduced to her new brother-in-law and discovers that he was part of the lynch mob and that he was the one who fired the deadly shots. Despising Hank, yet not wanting to hurt Lucy, Marsha doesn't want to get involved and decides she will just hightail it out of town the next morning.
County Prosecutor Burt Rainey (Reagan) is positive that the man's death was the work of the Klan; however, as has been the case with many activities that have taken place in Rockpoint, no one ever sees anything, no one is ever willing to testify against the Klan. And without a witness to back him up, Rainey never has a case. This time, though, he is determined to indict the Klan, and after learning that Marsha had checked her suitcase at the bus station only minutes before the murder, he brings her to his office for questioning.
Although Marsha doesn't reveal the identity of the two men she clearly saw, she does tell Prosecutor Rainey that the mob were all wearing hoods. That is exactly what Burt needed to hear in order to pin the crime on the Klan; however, in order to get an indictment, he needs Marsha to testify to that, and he subpoenas her. Now Marsha can't leave town as planned. On the other hand, the Klan head, who has learned that Marsha witnessed the crime, tells her that if she testifies that it was the Klan, then her brother-in-law will be fingered as the guilty party and hanged. How can she do that to her sister?
Burt Rainey is having a similar dilemma. Over and over, his colleagues counsel him to drop the case, saying it is political suicide to try to indict the Klan, that he will never win another election in Rockpoint again. How can he prosecute the very people whose votes he needs to stay in office?
So, how do Burt and Marsha resolve their moral dilemmas? What will they do? Will they do what they think is right even when it is to their detriment to do so? Well the remainder of the movie chronicles the choices they both make, so in order to find out, you will have to watch for yourself.
Storm Warning is a very good message movie, and I highly recommend it. It's out on DVD and should be readily available and quite easy to track down.