STORM CENTER, 1956
Starring: Bette Davis, Brian Keith, Kim Hunter, Paul Kelly
A small-town librarian is branded as a Communist by local politicians when she refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the library's shelves. REVIEW:
Storm Center is a not so thinly veiled account of the effects of the Red Scare on American culture and politics. Communism is so feared that a widowed librarian Alicia Hull (Bette Davis) poses an enormous threat to the city council when she refuses to remove a book titled The Communist Dream from the shelves. The film smacks the audience over the head with its moralizing; the gist is that censorship is so bad that it can lead to terrible things (in this case, creating a pyromaniacal little boy named Freddie (Kevin Coughlin) and making a pariah out of the town librarian).
It is difficult to see any sincerity in the film due to the mannered performances and blatant. The music throughout also doesn’t do the film any favors. Egregious examples include a triumphant flourish as Alicia places the forbidden book back on the shelf in a moment of defiance and the menacing score that plays over a scene that cross cuts between her former friend Freddie on the bleachers and his parents and townspeople. The latter sequence is exemplary in its mimicking of the horror/thriller genre replete with suspenseful music and dark shadows.
Freddie’s father George (Joe Blantell) is a typical uncultured oaf. He wants Freddie to play sports with the other kids instead of spending his time alone in the library reading books. He later becomes annoyed with his wife and asks if she’s going to start “banging” the keys on the piano again. The up and coming city councilman Paul Duncan (Brian Keith) is a stereotypical politician: ruthless, ambitious, arrogant. As the library burns to the ground, he doesn’t seem too concerned.
This is a skippable film but there are a few scenes that I found amusing. At the dedication for the new children’s wing Freddie launches a verbal attack against Alicia, yelling “Communist! Communist!” Alicia responds by smacking him in the face, back and forth, as he screams. The melodrama escalates when Freddie torches a pile of books in the library. We are treated to a montage of books up in flames that would make any bibliophile shudder. The bit is a little too long, showing everything from War and Peace to Gulliver’s Travels to Shakespeare’s complete works. The camera zooms in dramatically on the books and we see the flames lick the pages of Alice in Wonderland among other novels.
The resolution is not terribly satisfying. Alicia decides to be the bigger person and rebuild the library for the people who formerly shunned her for her supposed Communist beliefs. I was hoping she would walk away and tell the townspeople to rebuild it themselves. I didn’t get the sense that any of the townspeople felt remorse for treating Alicia poorly, especially not Paul Duncan. More unbelievable is the fact that it took the destruction of the library to make his fiancée Martha (Kim Hunter) see Paul’s true personality. The film’s anti-censorship message is admirable but the film is dated and cannot be fully appreciated outside of the Cold War era.
CLICK the LINKS and EXPLORE