“Sure she talks sweet as honey. All the time you can bet she was working away back there. She has twenty five years to fill those shelves with poison. She and those books of hers. All they want is one thing: smash and destroy. Smash everything we’ve ever built up in this country.” – George Slater (Joe Mantell) via IMDB
I thought I had seen every Bette Davis film ever made until last week, when I happened to catch ‘Storm Center’ on GetTV — one of several new movie channels popping up on broadcast television.
Storm Center (1956) stars Bette Davis as a small town librarian branded as a communist because she refuses to remove a controversial book from the library’s shelves.
The film was released two years after the *McCarthy hearings, at the height of the cold war. It plays up the McCarthyism theme. Complaints are made to the city council about a library book called ‘The Communist Dream’. Mrs Hull (Davis) is asked by the council to remove the book from circulation because they feel it promotes communism and could corrupt young minds. Hull agrees at first, then changes her mind. The council fires her and here is where things spin out of control.
A young lawyer (Brian Keith) takes the opportunity to use “The Red Scare” as a platform for his political future. Rumors spread. Lies are told. Mrs Hull is branded a communist. Even her favorite little book worm, Freddie Slater (Kevin Coughlin) makes up far-fetched tales about his mentor. Everyone is willing to believe the outlandish stories in spite of their personal experiences with the librarian. The extremism reminded me of today’s political climate. In particular, our Tea Party movement.
*For those of you too young to remember, Joe McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin who led the witch hunt against American citizens, including famous actors, writers, and fellow politicians, whom he thought might be associated with the communist party. It was the height of the cold war. America was hyper paranoid about Russia. Many people lost their jobs, homes, and families in disgrace because McCarthy branded them “Un-American”.
It’s striking how little has changed in fifty-eight years. Oh sure, we like to convince ourselves that we are more evolved than our elders but when it comes right down to it, we are just as susceptible as they were to fear and propaganda. It’s how George W Bush got away with invading Iraq. Everyone of us who argued against it was branded “UnAmerican”. My own father questioned my allegiance. I think he even called me a commie. 🙂
We humans do love to rally around a common enemy. — even if the enemy is made up.
Storm Center is a little melodramatic. The ending is kinda corny, but overall, the film is enjoyable. Kevin Coughlin’s Freddie reminds me of me as a little bookworm. Like Freddie, my neighborhood librarian was my best friend. She helped me navigate through the library’s stacks and even allowed me extra books when she thought I could handle it.
You’ll have to hunt for Storm Center. It’s not available through Netflix. If you see it scheduled on a local TV station, set your DVR. It’s worth your attention.
- Storm Center was the first movie to criticize the McCarthy era directly.
- The Legion of Decency did not like the movie because of what it considered the film’s “pro-Communist” leanings. Instead of condemning the picture, though, it used a “separate classification” for it. That had previously been used on Blockade (1938) (a Spanish Civil War film that the League also thought was anti-Catholic and pro-Communist) and Martin Luther (1953) (because the film portrayed the life of the man who split Christianity, and also because the League thought it was full of inaccurate presentations of Church teachings).
Trivia via IMDB
See Glinda’s vacant smile in this picture?
Think I’m kidding?
If you recall, Glinda started the conflict by giving Dorothy the shoes that were Ms West’s only remembrance of her sister, who was so tragically killed by a falling house.
Imagine how you’d feel if the cops gave your dead sibling’s shoes to the person responsible for his or her death.
Glinda is a trouble maker. She interrupts a distraught Wicked Witch, who is trying to find out what the hell has happened to her sister, with the antagonistic, “Aren’t you forgetting the Ruby Slippers?”
The Ruby Slippers magically appear on Dorothy’s feet.
The Wicked Witch pleads for the tokens of her sister’s memory.
Meanwhile, you can see Dorothy’s terror. Clearly she does not want to get involved. …and she sure as hell doesn’t want those shoes! – well, maybe.
Glinda further stirs the pot when she commands the Wicked Witch, “Be gone! Before somebody drops a house on you.”
Somewhat unsettled by this, the Wicked Witch takes her leave, – but not before threatening Dorothy and her dog Toto with bodily harm.
Formulating a plan, Glinda says to Dorothy, “I’m afraid you’ve made a rather bad enemy of the Wicked Witch Of The West.”
You just know Dorothy is thinking, “Wait. What? NO! I do not want to be part of this!”
This is where I think Glinda, upon sending Dorothy off on a wild goose chase, sets her plan in motion.
In my warped mind, Glinda sets off in her bubble to the Emerald City in order to convince the Wizard to use Dorothy as a means to finally rid themselves of Wicked Witches. Why not? She already killed one witch. what’s another? That’s why she sent Dorothy to the Emerald City by way of the more scenic Yellow Brick Rd, instead of the more direct Red Brick Rd. Everyone in Oz knows Yellow Brick Road runs right past Ms West’s Castle! It’s one of the premier tourist attractions of Oz!
My conspiracy theory comes from one single moment at the end of the film when you realize that Dorothy has been played.
Glinda, with a big smile on her face, says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.”
Are you kidding me?!
I just wanted Dorothy to look Glinda straight in the eye and say, “I. Killed. The. Wrong. Witch!” I wanted Dorothy to beat the living daylight’s out of Glinda. …or maybe look around for another bucket of water. If it worked for one witch, maybe it would work on another.
Glinda, the “good” witch. Ha! I wanna smack that vacant smile right off that bitch’s face!
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Intentional or not, that wink at Rock Hudson’s sexuality is a typical example of Hollywood using homosexuality as the butt of a joke. But the gay jokes are subtle compared to the blatant sexism which was the main attraction in this movie.
In A Very Special Favor, Michel Boullard (Charles Boyer) fears that his daughter, a 30 year old Psychiatrist, is destined to become a lonely spinster. — It doesn’t matter that’s she’s a successful doctor. She’s 30 and single. Shocking! In an effort to ensure his daughter’s future happiness, Mr. Boullard cooks up a crazy scheme with handsome lady’s man, Paul Chadwick (Rock Hudson). Dr. Boullard does get the upper hand, but not without a few cringe worthy moments.
It’s a cute move that’s worth watching. It will make you laugh and, like Mad Men, give you a glimpse at a time in American history when, no matter how much a woman achieves, she couldn’t be happy unless married and pregnant