Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2023)
No actor ever enjoyed a more successful post-Hollywood life than Ronald Reagan. For a look at Reagan in his prime as an actor, we go to 1951’s Storm Warning.
While she travels for work, dress model Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) stops in the small southern town of Rock Point. She goes there to visit her sister Lucy Rice (Doris Day) and meet her brother-in-law Hank (Steve Cochran) for the first time.
While in Rock Point, Marsha witnesses an incident in which members of the Ku Klux Klan murder Walter Adams (Dale Van Sickel), a reporter who planned an exposé on the hate group. This leads to complications that could threaten Marsha’s safety as well.
If that synopsis leaves open the possibility Warning might feature Reagan as one of the murderous KKK members, I’ll dispose of that concept immediately. Reagan remains on the side of good here, as he plays Burt Rainey, a district attorney who goes after the killers.
Too bad. It would’ve been interesting to see Reagan play against type as a nasty bigot.
Warning came out during a period where “social commentary” films seemed in vogue. These tended to be well-meaning but pedantic and not especially compelling.
To some degree, I feel the same way about Warning, though not to an extreme. Yes, at times it feels like an “exposé” intended to reveal corruption and bigotry, and these moments can come across as semi-lectures at times.
Still, Warning usually remembers that it exists as a thriller, one in which we see the life of the heroine placed in danger – sort of. The film also becomes muddled in that regard, mainly as it pursues two connected but not totally attached narratives.
Much of Warning deals with the fallout Marsha deals with, but we also spend a lot of time with Burt’s investigation. Though these do link, they proceed along such different paths so much of the time that they don’t connect especially well.
Honestly, I wish Warning concentrated either on Marsha or on Burt but not both to the degree it does. While Marsha remains the main focal point, we get too many digressions for the story to dig into her issues as well as it should.
Despite these issues, Warning manages some intrigue, and it occasionally comes with surprises. In particular, Marsha’s decision can take a more complicated path than expected.
These offer some complexity, mainly via the way the movie shows how difficult it can be to do the right thing. Rogers offers a reasonably rich turn as the conflicted Marsha.
Nonetheless, Warning doesn’t fully work due to its inconsistent narrative and its semi-pedantic nature. While better than a lot of the era’s “social commentary” flicks – and I appreciate its surprisingly grim finale - it doesn’t quite excel.