Cast & Crew
In upstate New England, struggling novelist Fred Blake lives on a remote farm in the hills with his wife Elizabeth and young son David. Embittered by his inability to complete his novel, Fred also remains guilt-ridden over Elizabeth and David's isolation on the lonely farm, but nevertheless resents the persistent affable attentions of their hired hand, Hank. One morning as a winter storm moves in, the Blakes are surprised by the arrival of Fred's brother Charlie and his two companions, the gun-toting Benjie and platinum blonde, Edna Rogers. As snow begins falling outside, Charlie reveals he has suffered a gunshot wound in the leg and needs help, but angrily orders Fred not to contact the local doctor. In spite of Benjie's threatening demeanor and Fred's clear distress, Elizabeth, who was once in love with Charlie, agrees to help him and takes him to an upstairs bedroom. Charlie clings to a briefcase, which contains a large amount of money and a gun. Offering no explanation for his condition, Charlie again refuses a doctor and insists Elizabeth remove the bullet. After the successful procedure, Benjie turns on a radio and everyone in the house hears a report of a bank robbery in nearby Batterskill in which a policeman was killed. The Blakes realize Charlie and the others were involved, but Charlie assures the admiring David that he is not a killer. In private, Elizabeth castigates Charlie for bringing danger to their home, but Charlie insists he means them no harm. Meanwhile, David, who is unsure what to make of his good-natured uncle, is also captivated by Edna's brassy appearance. Sensing David's interest, Edna admits she was once an actress and sings for him. Frustrated by his helplessness, Fred confronts Benjie, who tauntingly slaps him. Fred retrieves his hunting rifle, enraging Benjie who beats him despite David's attempt to intervene. Only Charlie's appearance puts a halt to Benjie's outburst. Charlie apologizes to his brother, but, humiliated by Benjie's action and realizing that Elizabeth still harbors feelings for Charlie, Fred vows to turn the robbers in if given a chance. That night, Benjie attempts to take his share of the money from Charlie's briefcase, but is thwarted when David awakens Charlie in time. The next morning, Charlie confides in David that despite being younger than Fred, he has always felt responsible for helping his brother. Charlie then asks David about his dog, and the boy acknowledges receiving the pet as a gift from an unknown sender, but Fred eventually shot the dog for killing chickens. Later, when David asks Fred and Elizabeth if they know who sent him the dog, Fred bitterly orders Elizabeth to answer David and she replies that David's father gave him the dog. Confused by this and other comments between Elizabeth and Fred that he has overheard, David begins to wonder if Charlie is his father. Elizabeth then demands that Charlie and the others depart as soon as possible, but Charlie insists that the continuing heavy snow fall has made it impossible. Later, Charlie sees Hank approaching the house and orders everyone into the living room, where Benjie holds a gun to David's head. Elizabeth meets Hank who reveals he was snowed in on a neighboring farm all night. As the others listen from the living room, Hank abruptly confesses his affection for Elizabeth and wonders how she can remain with the bitter, unhappy Fred. After Hank blurts out a proposal, Fred joins Elizabeth in the living room, prompting Hank to apologize and depart. Later when Benjie mocks Fred for his continual failures, Elizabeth defends him, triggering another assault by Benjie, which Charlie again halts. Charlie then calms the restless Benjie by revealing his plan to have David lead them over the snowy mountain pass the next day. That evening in private, Elizabeth apologizes to Fred for Hank's comments, but Fred sadly acknowledges that he knows that despite his love for her, Elizabeth has never cared for him in return. Joining the others, the Blakes hear a radio report that a wounded member of the robbery gang has died and the police suspect the remaining robbers are nearby. Before bedtime, Elizabeth asks David not to spend time with Charlie and, despite his conflicted feelings, David agrees. Later that night, however, David meets with Charlie, but refuses his request to lead them over the pass despite Charlie's emotional revelations of how disappointments in his early life forced him into a life of crime. Early the next morning, David goes downstairs and, spotting fresh tracks in the snow, realizes that Fred has gone for the police. Not wanting Charlie to be arrested, David wakens him and agrees to lead them away, despite Elizabeth's protests. Leaving Elizabeth tied up, Charlie and the others, in heavy clothing and snow shoes, depart, but soon Edna grows flustered with the bulky clothes. Irritated by her constant complaining, Benjie shoves Edna, who falls over a small ravine and breaks her leg. Charlie then tosses her some of the money and in spite of her hysterical pleas, abandons her. Meanwhile down the hill, Hank comes upon Fred, who has frozen to death in the snow. Alarmed, Hank hurries to the Blake farm and finds Elizabeth, whom he frees before setting off to rescue David. On the climb, Charlie is slowed by his painful wound and Benjie's continued efforts to take the bag containing the money. Charlie gently refuses David's pleas to stay with him and warns David that although he has taken Benjie's gun away, he remains dangerous. When Charlie collapses in exhaustion later, Benjie takes the bag and gun. David continues climbing and, upon reaching the top of the pass, spots a highway below. Afraid that Benjie will kill him once he finds the way out of the mountains, David attempts to lead him away from the summit. Benjie refuses to believe him, forcing David to attack him with a small penknife. Benjie hurls David aside and as Charlie attacks him, David retrieves the fallen gun and shoots Benjie, attracting Hank's attention down below. Charlie then carries the bruised David to an empty ranger hut and bids him goodbye, but is shot only a few feet outside the cabin by Hank. At the hospital later, the dying Charlie apologizes to Elizabeth and asks to see David. Charlie then admits he lied to David and assumes complete responsibility for his life of crime. David asks if Charlie gave him the dog and if he is his father, but Charlie only asks David to remember him and then dies.
H. R. Hoffman
Storm Fear -
Where this sensibility came from can be a vexing question, if you start with his rather bland acting career, in which he is best remembered as being noir-persecuted, and overshadowed, by strong and secretive women - Gene Tierney in Leaver Her to Heaven (1945), Linda Darnell in Forever Amber (1947), Ida Lupino in Road House (1948). There were scads of grade-B swashbucklers, and only his reliance on brawn and anxiety gave any indication of his future filmmaking M.O. As an actor, his personality couldn't find a foothold. But if you look at the first film he directed - Storm Fear (1955) - you can see the real Wilde emerge, as if from a strait-jacket. A palm-sized, claustrophobic noir scripted by Horton Foote (his first screenplay), the movie is stagey but madly intense, as though three or four people trapped in a room together is the de facto equivalent of a barrel of gasoline and a thrown cigarette. The set-up is peeled for us like an onion, and it's not simple: in a remote cabin in the Adirondacks, an uneasy and destitute family dynamic idles, between anxious Mom (Jean Wallace, aka Mrs. Wilde), watchful 12-year-old son David (David Stollery) and sick and depressed Dad (Dan Duryea), whose writing career is at a dead end. In through the door without announcement comes a familiar noir ingredient: the small band of outlaws on the run (a gunshot Wilde, Lee Grant's weathered but empathic moll, and Steven Hill as the sociopathic muscle with no taste for the wilderness), looking to hole up after a robbery in the city, and possibly take the quaint domestic unit as hostage if need be.
Only slowly do we realize that Wilde's gangster is in fact the Dad's bad-seed younger brother, and that the boy is actually his - and everyone knows it except David, whose dawning awareness parallels our discovery of the lingering, sexually impulsive, bitter romantic bond between Wallace's Mom and Wilde's hood. (As she grows angrier with his endless pattern of irresponsible neglect and criminal instinct, he grows guiltier about the boy's situation, and therefore more sympathetic.) Of course the situation in that tiny cabin begins to boil over, as the kid looks to subvert the interlopers, the despairing Dad becomes instantly convinced that his brother and his wife are planning to run off together again, Hill's hair-trigger gangster (who's already left one body behind him) begins to get violent, and with the law presumably approaching, the bank robbers decide to force the boy to guide them on foot over the mountains. The journey takes up the third act, on snowshoes, shifting the moral weight of action away from all of the adults and onto David, who realizes he alone must put an end to the story.
Pile onto all of that, in 88 minutes, the directorial climate Wilde brings to the situation - everything percolates in the key of Goddamn, with everyone ready to ignite at any second. The relationship between Wilde's bad boy, crippled from a bullet and trying for the moment to keep everybody satisfied, and Wallace's furiously heartbroken Mom begins at a sweaty, stricken pitch and then rather graphically moves toward moments of stunning sexual stress. In fact, we're pelted with concerns about Wallace's sexual availability - a bizarre narrative element to jump out at you from a '50s noir, and especially in regards to Wallace, who's no vamp but instead a warm and self-sacrificial hausfrau. Dennis Weaver, as a kind and courtly ranch hand, shows up drunk, and as everybody else hides and listens, confesses to his ardor for Mom, and makes a plea to take her David away. Wilde cuts back to the secret eavesdroppers, guns at the ready, and we're in Wallace's shoes as she tries to fend off the only completely decent adult in sight, in order to save everyone's lives.
Storm Fear is distinctively thick with anxiety; the characters in aggregate suffer more humiliations and guilty freight than in any other noir one could think of. Wilde's budgets were never large, and he never cared for the professional polish that might've made a cheap movie feel slick, and his debut in particular is glaringly inexpensive, with studio pickup inserts standing out obviously from the mix. But those are formal details, which in the case of noir is never much of a pertinent matter. In the case of Wilde, it can be seen as part of his directorial signature - a willful disregard for fluid professionalism that translates into a love for raw, cut-to-the-bone emotional tension. Index him against Samuel Fuller, Phil Karlson and Don Siegel (not to mention contemporaneous Japanese New Wavers like Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukusaku), and he shines as a hyperbolist auteur of struggle and human damage.
By Michael Atkinson
Storm Fear -
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.
Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).
Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.
After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).
His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
Storm Fear marked the directing debut of actor Cornel Wilde. The film was shot on location in Sun Valley, ID and in Los Angeles at the KTTV studios. Although the onscreen credit states "Introducing Steven Hill," Hill's actual debut was in the 1950 M-G-M production Lady Without Passport (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 1941-50).
Released in United States Winter January 1956
Released in United States Winter January 1956