Mob mentality or its’ kinder term group think has always fascinated me. Maybe because we all grow up hearing the old reprimand, “If your friends jump off a cliff does that mean you have to?” at some point in our lives. Of course, the logical answer is no, and yet many times we find ourselves following the crowd or the trend without much thought. In it’s cruelest form mob mentality will find many normally decent people doing terrible things as part of a group that they would never consider doing by themselves. What makes us follow like sheep to the slaughter over the proverbial cliff?
Storm Warning is a black and white film from 1951 which touches on the reality of how mob mentality can corrupt even decent people.
Marsha Mitchell (played by Ginger Rogers) makes a brief stop in a small southern town to visit her sister Lucy Rice (played by Doris Day) and meet Lucy’s new husband. Before she even has a chance see her sister, she witness the murder of a journalist by a group of men in white robes. Although, they don’t see her, she does see the faces of two of the men involved, one of who turns out to be her new brother-in-law. Marsha then has to decide whether to keep her knowledge of the crime a secret to protect her sister’s happiness or to be a witness for the county prosecutor Burt Rainey (played by everyone’s favorite President, Ronald Reagan) who is extremely dedicated and eager to put a stop to the activity of the KKK.
Marsha is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, because she is repulsed by what she has seen and disgusted that her brother-in-law is involved. Yet not only does she want her sister’s happiness, as the plot moves along she is also threatened by both her new brother and the upstanding citizen/criminal mastermind of the KKK who also happens to employ much of the town. Other than the county prosecutor, none of the townspeople are eager to get involved and put a stop to things even though they are embarrassed by what is happening in their town.
Storm Warning is hard to watch due to the tension throughout the film as well as scenes of personal violence. You can feel the fear of both Marsha and some of the townspeople and rightly so as things progressively get worse. She moves from being vaguely threatened to being physically attacked and even worse (no spoilers here!). There are so many shocking scenes, but none more so to me then at the end when the KKK are gathered together and then exposed. You see not just the men of the town, but also their wives and children! What kind of parent exposes their innocent child to such hatred?
I found Rogers, Day and Reagan very believable in their roles. Reagan is a newer discovery for me. I never had a desire to watch any of his films, but since last year I have seen a handful of his movies and found I enjoy watching him. He brings an intensity and gravity to his characters.
This is not a movie I enjoyed. But I have found myself constantly thinking about it since viewing it many weeks ago. Some films are great because we love them and some are great because they make us uncomfortable and force us to think. This one is the latter.
You can currently watch this movie on Amazon.