Storm Fear (1955)

On the run and in the snow ― a lethal combination for those caught in the violence of Storm Fear (1955).

As dramatic set-ups and frequently visited tropes go, the home invasion is as stable a staple as one might wish for, and was perfect for film noir.

There are many examples of home invasion film noirs, from Suddenly (1954), in which Frank Sinatra plays an assassin intent on killing the US President; all the way back to the slightly more conventional The Petrified Forest (1936)

Probably the most famous example of this style of story from the classic film noir period is Key Largo (1948) ― and many of these movies contain the same set-up ― gangsters on the run take over a family home or similar residence, thus creating perfect conditions to explore the inevitable culture clash that crime inspired in the bourgeois imagination.

The merits of this theme are obvious. As here in Storm Fear, a production will save a fortune on sets, which are restricted by acting out the drama largely in one place. Then there is the obvious cranked up fear which is going to result from desperate and anti-social characters despoiling the American Dream's greatest achievement ― the sweetness of home sweet home.

Jean Wallace and the sweetness of home sweet home in
Storm Fear (1955)

Dennis Weaver in Storm Fear (1955)

Lee Grant, Steven Hill and Cornel Wilde in the thick of Storm Fear (1955)

Dan Duryea in Storm Fear (1955)

It has also been quite normal down the years to have the crooks coming between a married couple who are already having difficulties ― again a feature of Storm Fear ― and most commonly of all, as in Key Largo and as in Storm Fear, the invaders are on the run after a heist ― suggesting a decent area of crossover between the heist movie, and the crooks on the run home invasion style.

Cornel Wilde is shirts off for action in Storm Fear (1955)

An artform in its own right, still popular to this day, the home invasion noir, maybe most hideously suggested in later years by Straw Dogs (1971), can be found as a regular theme ― Sorry, Wrong Number (1948); The Night Holds Terror (1955); He Ran All The Way (1951); Dial M For Murder (1954); The Desperate Hours (1955); Count The Hours (1953); Blind Alley (1939); The Bat (1959) ― although it is obvious that the subgenre has roots deeper still than this when considering the 1909 silent short film by DW Griffiths, The Lonely Villa.

Lee Grant dancing it up and drinking it down in Storm Fear (1955)

As with other great tropes, the theme is extendable and can be partially employed. There are in fact other home take-overs throughout the film noir cycle, and for example, there is a slight parallel to be found with the younger and attractive woman living remotely with the embittered older man ― an artist in fact in Storm Fear and also an artist in The Woman on the Beach, in which the beautiful Joan Bennet has a barren and hermit-like life in the wild imposed upon her by a moody artist.

Dan Duryea as the tortured writer weak husband type in
Storm Fear (1955)

Simultaneous action and reaction in Storm Fear (1955)

Home invasion film noir provided the audiences with multiple opportunities for action, especially with the widened camera angles of the new lenses brought in in the 1950s. Four characters can easily inhabit one camera set-up in a movie like Storm Fear (1955), providing action and reaction in spades. 

Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace - shirtless masculinity in Storm Fear (1955)

A common noir theme in the masculine middle ages of the classic film noir cycle, is the weak male versus the assertive and usually criminal male. What's interesting is that neither are entirely or completely desirable.

In Storm Fear (1955) Dan Duryea plays an unusually weakened  male lead role, as a writer husband who is safe and predictable in one sense, but in another sense, somewhat indecisive and less than attractive when faced with the prospect of saving his family.

Cornel Wilde, also the director, plays the bad side of masculinity, here as a criminal on the run. What film noir often shows us is that the women, despite themselves cannot help but fall for the immoral men of action, sometimes fighting so hard against themselves and the desire of the male, that consent becomes a difficult issue to pin down. 

Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace; struggles with consent in
Storm Fear (1955)

Another popular home invasion film noir from the era is Cry Terror (1958) which also features the threatening of a child. There is something quite visceral for the viewer and possibly quite enjoyable for the film-makers about holding a gun to a kid's head.

Dan Duryea, solid inaction in Storm Fear (1955)

Enjoyable as the home invasion is in Storm Fear, the action heats up as the weather chills on down, and the villains and their hostages take to the snow. The closing scenes of Storm Fear, shot in Sun Valley in Idaho, are tough going, hard-trekking, bleak and cruel. The effect is worth the effort that clearly went in to capturing these snowy scenes, which are bleak and beautiful, and comprised of action as bitter as the weather itself.

A villains' trek in Idaho snow in Storm Fear (1955)

Lee Grant meets a cruel fate in Storm Fear (1955)

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