Family conflict is at the heart of this independently made crime film. Directed by Cornel Wilde with a screenplay by Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful), based on a novel by Clinton Seeley, Storm Fear pits brother against brother. At the core of the trouble is a woman, no surprise there either. Wilde directed eight feature films. Prior to this work he directed one episode of G.E. True Theater. Storm Fear was his first feature and it’s an impressive first time out.
Along with Wilde, the film stars Jean Wallace, his real life wife, Dan Duryea, Dennis Weaver, Lee Grant and Steven Hill. Hill, in what was only his second big screen role, is best known for his roles in Mission Impossible and later on in Law and Order. The only other member of the cast is young David Stollery, whose most notable role began the same year, 1955, this film was released, in the Disney TV series The Adventures of Spin and Marty (he played Marty).
Though brothers Fred (Dan Duryea) and Charlie (Cornel Wilde) Blake have taken different paths in life, one good, the other bad, both men are failures at their choose careers. Fred is a writer who over the years of writing has only had one novel published and it was not a success. He’s married to Elizabeth and they have a son David. They live on a remote farm in the mountains for reasons having something to do with Fred’s health and the solitude he needs to write. Brother Charlie is a thief, a bank robber, a man without a good bone in his body. He and his two cohorts, Benji (Steven Hill) and Edna (Lee Grant), are on the run from the law. Charlie is wounded with a bullet in his leg. They have come to hide out at Fred and Elizabeth’s farm for a couple of days to give Charlie’s leg wound a chance to heal.
What unfolds over time has less to do with the hostage takeover of a family, which does happen, than about the dynamics of a family with some deep dark secrets that are revealed as the film unfolds. Strained relations, regrets, secret desires long buried, resurface. Additionally, Charlie’s two partners in crime add another level of distrust particularly, Benjie (Steven Hill) who pretty much wants to take his share of the money from the bank robbery and take off.
The film’s dynamics center on the family and their long secretive history. You see, before her marriage, Liz and Charlie dated. Later, she married Fred, after she gave birth to David, mostly as a matter of convenience. Their marriage is as cold as the snowy weather outside. Young David does not know his real father is Charlie.
Interesting enough, though Duryea’s Fred is the honest brother, he comes across as less sympathetic than the crooked Charlie. He is nasty, bitter, self centered and unforgiving. A melancholy feeling hangs in the cold air throughout. You feel for Charlie while emotions run completely dry for Duryea’s Fred.
The film takes place around Christmas time though there is little holiday spirit or anything to cheer about. Other than a dreary looking tree there is little about the film to suggest Christmas. Well, there is the snow that has blanketed the mountain terrain, but as I said, there is little holiday tidings in this tense drama. In fact, the coldness of the harsh terrain can be seen as a metaphor for the coldness of all the characters, that is, except for the young boy, David, who develops a warm fondness for his “Uncle” Charlie.
It’s the bleakness of the film, along with the complexity of the characters that draws you in to this film. Dan Duryea’s Fred is a beaten man with a career going nowhere, a marriage that is a sham and a “son” who he cannot give any love. When it comes to dark characters there are few who are in the same class as Duryea. Other than the young boy, Jean Wallace’s Liz is the center of the film. Like Fred, she is frustrated by her loveless marriage. One difference is she loves her son. But underneath this frustration there are sexual feelings that are rekindled when Charlie shows up. She knows he’s no good, but her desires are heating up within. Then there is Hank (Dennis Weaver), a neighbor who likes Liz and wants her to dump Fred and come live with him. This all leads to a lot of tension to say the least. With the added addition of a music score by Elmer Bernstein you have a solid, bleak thriller that deserves more attention than it has received.
According to TCM, location shots were filmed at Sun Valley in Idaho and interiors, for this independent production, were shot at the studios of KTTV in Los Angles.