Release Date(s)1955 (August 4, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
When he made his directorial debut in 1955, Cornel Wilde was an accomplished but unremarkable (for the period) leading man who had turned in solid, professional work in films like Leave Her to Heaven and Forever Amber. Mostly known for film noir thanks to his time under contract at Fox during an era when that studio was going through a sort of golden age of the style, Wilde was at his best when playing second fiddle to strong, powerful femme fatales such as Gene Tierney and Ida Lupino – even in his finest work, it was hard to discern a strong personality. Therefore, it must have come as a shock to audiences of the time (if anyone was paying attention) when Wilde exploded onto the screen as a director with the powerhouse crime drama Storm Fear. A contained thriller stuffed to the edges with psychosexual tension, it transformed Wilde the slightly bland actor into Wilde the mesmerizing and primitive director – and Wilde would continue even further in that direction with subsequent efforts like The Naked Prey and No Blade of Grass.
Those films would take Wilde’s pitch-black sensibility to nearly apocalyptic extremes, whereas Storm Fear is more superficially conventional. Scripted by the great Horton Foote, it’s a tight, limited location thriller set in a cabin occupied by what we quickly discover is a highly dysfunctional family: nervous mom Jean Wallace, depressed dad Dan Duryea, and serious twelve-year old David Stollery. The tensions are already festering when a gang of criminals consisting of Wilde, Lee Grant, and Steven Hill show up looking for a place to hide out from the law; when the trio of bad guys collides with the trio living in the cabin, troubling secrets are revealed and an elaborate array of psychological power plays unfolds. To reveal more would be to rob the film of its considerable impact, much of which comes not only from Foote’s nerve-shredding script but from Wilde’s rough and effective direction. He milks the claustrophobic setting for all it’s worth, then achieves even more impressive effects in a climax that moves to a more expansive exterior; the film oozes betrayal and humiliation, and Wilde’s refusal to heed Hollywood niceties – there’s very little studio polish here – amps up the gritty drama to a fever pitch that would make Abel Ferrara and Sam Fuller proud.
The cinematography is by veteran director of photography Joseph La Shelle, who would go on to shoot numerous classics for Billy Wilder (including The Apartment) as well as How the West Was Won and Arthur Penn’s The Chase. In this early effort he proves himself an expert noir stylist, employing stark contrasts in both the lighting and the black-and-white tonal scale to create one striking image after another. He’s well served by the Blu-ray transfer, which preserves all of the sharp details without sacrificing the blacks; if anything, the transfer is so clear that it’s a little too revealing of the movie’s occasionally mismatched effects shots. The 2.0 sound mix is solid but unremarkable, though it does nicely showcase an exceptional score by the always reliable Elmer Bernstein. As one might expect from a title this relatively obscure, the extras are minimal: just a trio of random trailers for other classic thrillers.
- Jim Hemphill