A gang of bank robbers on the run hold up at a farm just as a winter storm hits the area forcing the criminals to play tough with the family living within. Now if I told you Dan Duryea and Cornel Wilde were the two opposing stars in the film, wouldn’t you just assume that Duryea was the criminal? Not so this time out in this black and white thriller that saw Wilde do triple duty as director, producer and star.
Duryea is introduced as the world weary husband to Jean Wallace and father to David Stollery. It’s a rather weak character in the Duryea cannon that sees him jealous of handy man Dennis Weaver and as we shall see later, for good reason. When Weaver is away from the farm, a sedan arrives carrying a wounded Cornel, a moll in a mink played by Lee Grant and a gun happy Steven Hill as the third wheel. Despite the freezing storm on the outside of the house, the inside is going to see the heat rise with tension at an all time high.
Wilde’s chosen the Duryea home for a specific reason after pulling a bank heist gone wrong leaving two men dead including one police officer. Duryea is his brother who wants nothing to do with him. Their stormy past is going to come to the forefront of the plot when we find out that Duryea’s wife Jean was Wilde’s love interest years ago. There is even a strong hint that Jean’s son, David is really Wilde’s offspring.
As the family history bubbles to the surface, there is also the struggle going on between Wilde and thug Hill for supremacy and the 85000 dollars that Wilde keeps close by in a brief case. Wilde knows that the police will be closing in despite the storm and convinces the young boy to lead him and his two companions over a large mountain to the state highway on the other side. It’s on this journey that the youngster is going to see more than just the rebellious side to his Uncle he has quickly taken a liking to.
Storm Fear has plenty going for it but surprisingly Dan Duryea isn’t really one of them. Duryea’s character is far too weak to be of interest. He’s a failed writer and down on the hand that life has dealt him. While it’s never said, I would imagine he’s afflicted with TB which explains the coughing fit and lack of energy in his physical scenes. I prefer my Duryea characters to be unsavory and first rate smart asses.
It’s Cornel that’s really good here as the gangster with far too much on his mind. Shades of Bogie in The Petrified Forest or The Desperate Hours? He is of course still in love with Wallace and whether or not the boy is his is left to the viewer to decipher for themselves. He plays it both tender and tough and even displays a longing to be loved and remembered before the fade out of this claustrophobic thriller that was scored by a young Elmer Bernstein. Location filming in Sun Valley, Idaho proved to be a big plus for the snowbound scenes for this script from Horton Foote of To Kill a Mockingbird fame.
Jean Wallace who off camera was Mrs. Cornel Wilde plays her role effectively in a low key style as that of the downtrodden wife of a man she isn’t in love with. Clips of her reaching for lip stick after Wilde has arrived adds to the flavor of her past love and longings. She may play it quietly but rages as any Mother would when the safety of her son is in question. Rounding out the cast, Steven Hill is deliciously sadistic taking pleasure in Wilde’s pain from his gunshot wound, Miss Grant gives it a bit of the Claire Trevor/Key Largo effort and Dennis Weaver just has that likable feel as the good natured farm hand.
Storm Fear was put out on blu ray and included in the Kino Lorber Noir boxset along with the previously reviewed Witness to Murder. A fine set to include on one’s shelf.