PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Existential Beefcake: 'Storm Fear' Brews Up a Stew

Director Cornel Wilde was drawn to rugged, violent themes in which his directing style was vigorous and confident. And he kept his shirt off.

Storm Fear

Director: Cornel Wilde
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Year: 1955
USDVD release date: 2015-08-04

Beefcake star Cornel Wilde took control of his career in the mid-'50s by becoming one of the actors who founded his own company to produce vehicles for himself, usually co-starring his wife Jean Wallace. His first such effort for Theodora Productions was the terrific noir film The Big Combo, and that same year he undertook his feature debut as a director, Storm Fear. He'd consistently be drawn to rugged, violent themes in which his directing style was vigorous and confident. And knowing his strengths as an actor, he was prominent with his shirt off.

Among its other remarkable qualities, Storm Fear was the first feature from a hot young writer of TV plays, Horton Foote, who was several years away from an Oscar for To Kill a Mockingbird and many more years from another for Tender Mercies. Even though Wilde's film is a mere melodrama of criminals holing up in a family's remote cabin, the characters are packed with enough backstory and complicated relationships to choke Tennessee Williams. Poor choice of words -- let's say enough to make Tennessee Williams blanche. Oh, let's make it Eugene O'Neill. In any case, Foote was working from a novel by Clinton Seeley.

The snowed-in mountain cabin belongs to a failed, touchy, ailing, self-pitying weakling of a writer, Fred (Dan Duryea, far from his tough roles), along with his troubled beautiful wife Elizabeth (Wallace) and their son David (David Stollery), who mourns for the beloved dog shot by his angry father. The dog, and the cabin for that matter -- and even David if you must know -- were gifts from Fred's younger brother, the no-good small-time criminal Charlie (Wilde), who shows up fresh from a disastrous hold-up with two stereotypical cronies: the floozy Belle (Lee Grant) and the hot-headed, half-crazy, trigger-happy Brooklynite Benjie (Steven Hill).

Dennis Weaver plays the handyman who makes eyes at Elizabeth, but nothing like the eyes she and the bad brother make at each other. This movie fairly throbs with undercurrents, resentments, and erotic tensions in web of criss-crossed loves--all thwarted. It's clear that David loves both the handyman and Uncle Charlie more than his own father, even before he starts to gather that his father may not be his father. The physical casting of Stollery and Wilde is right on the money for implying their relationship before anyone hints it.

Indeed, this a mighty interesting cast. Hill was an up-and-coming New York presence with a strong reputation. The credits "introduce" him, but he was already in a film five years earlier directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who did The Big Combo, so possibly Lewis recommended him to Wilde. Child actor Stollery is most famous for Walt Disney productions, such as the "Spin and Marty" serials on The Mickey Mouse Club, and Weaver was several years away from TV stardom. Grant's presence shows that Wilde didn't mind hiring blacklisted actors (as he could do for an independent production through United Artists); her next film was in 1959.

Whether in the claustrophobic cabin scenes that take up much of the movie or the equally threatening outdoors of the final act (shot in Sun Valley, Idaho), Joseph LaShelle's superb black and white photography is shown to advantage on this pristine-looking Blu-ray. The final "recuperative" shot tries to salvage the bleakness by implying a new fabricated family for the fade-out, but the whole is a sour, sad, traumatic adventure. This is the "existential" path Wilde would follow as a cult director of such items as The Naked Prey, Beach Red and No Blade of Grass. It all starts here.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.