Storm Center (1956) 

 

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:     Bette Davis (Alicia Hull), Brian Keith (Paul Duncan), Kim Hunter (Martha Lockridge), Paul Kelly (Judge Robert Ellerbe), Joe Mantell (George Slater), Kevin Coughlin (Freddie Slater), Sally Brophy (Laura Slater), Howard Wierum (Mayor Levering), Curtis Cooksey (Stacey Martin), Michael Raffetto (Edgar Greenbaum), Joseph Kearns (Mr. Morrisey), Edward Platt (Rev. Wilson), Kathryn Grant (Hazel Levering), Howard Wendell (Sen. Bascomb).

first film to challenge the Hollywood Blacklist; small-town librarian is branded as a Communist when she refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the library's shelves

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

The Free Public Library librarian, Alicia Hull, is on her way to work.  She stops to say something to some kids going to school.  She goes into the library and greets her two workers, Martha and Carl.  Then she goes to say hello to a man named Robert.  It's been awhile since he was last in the library.  He was just recently elected to the council.  Alicia tells Robert that she is counting on him to get her children's wing added onto the library.  Robert tells her not to worry for she will get the children's wing built just as she got the library built.  She protests that the building of the library was some 25 years ago. 

Robert is checking out the book The Communist Dream.  He says there have been some "comments" about the book.  Alicia encourages him to let her worry about what's in the library, not him. 

Alicia talks to young Freddie Slater and encourages his reading of books.  She lends a book by Hawthorne to Freddie. 

Freddie comes home and greet his mother and father.  His mother is planning a trip to St. Louis to see her mother.  Freddie starts reading too many books and it causes his father to worry about him.  And, if father is worried, then mother is worried.  Dad tries to take the book from Freddie at the breakfast table, and they wind up ripping the front cover off the book.  This really makes Freddy mad at his father. 

Freddie puts tape on the book and brings the book to Alicia's apartment.  George Slater goes to see Alicia and asks her why does Freddie have to always be reading a book?   She tells him to stop wishing that Freddie was somebody else.  Freddie is different and his father should value that difference. 

Robert, with his fellow councilmen, telephones Alicia and invites her to a luncheon with the entire council at Morrissey's.  Alicia thinks the topic of discussion will be the library and Robert finds it easier to let her think that.  Alicia jumps at the chance to have lunch with the council. 

Alicia arrives at the restaurant with her plans for the children's wing.  The councilmen interrupt her and quickly vote to approve the new children's wing.  That was really fast and Alicia is a little shocked.  The councilmen want to talk about something else with the librarian.  The very forthright Paul Duncan says what they want to know is how did The Communist Dream by P. Tolskin ever get into the town library?  The book is causing the councilmen problems.  They have had a number of letters and phone calls complaining about the book.  Alicia agrees with the men that the book is sheer Red propaganda, but she balks at the idea of forcing the book off the shelves of the library.  She says it's a matter of principle.  They say they want it out of the library.  They put pressure on her and so she agrees to remove the book.

The librarian Martha has been going out with Paul Duncan.  He picks her up in his car after the library closes.  Martha kisses Paul. 

In the library, Alicia decides to put the forbidden book back on the shelves.  She then puts in a call to Levering to say that she put the book back on the shelves.  One of the councilmen is at a restaurant where Martha and Paul are having dinner.  The councilman comes over to Paul and tells him that the librarian put the book back on the shelves.  Martha wants to know what's going on.  Paul explains the situation to Martha, who is frankly surprised that Alicia agreed to remove the book in the first place.

The council meets with Alicia and ask her why did she put the book back on the shelf?  She says she succumbed to a little gentle bribery the other day.  She thought it over very carefully and decided it isn't right to remove a book just because it has ideas that people don't like.  The councilmen try to convince her otherwise, and when that doesn't work, Paul Duncan gets up to ask a question of the librarian.  He asks her if she knows of the organization called The Council for Better Relations with the Soviet Union?  Yes, she was a member of the group for a short while.  And what about the American Peace Mobilization?  Yes, she belongs to that group too.  Paul tells the committee that these organizations are communist fronts. 

Alicia sees where Paul is going with this line of questions.  She says:  "In case you're in any doubt, I am not a communist.  I never was a communist.  I detest communism."  Paul says all he is trying to show is that Alicia was easily taken in by a bunch of high-sounding phrases used by the communists.  After all, if the librarian was duped once, she can certainly be duped again.  Another councilman ups the ante by saying that if this information about communist front organizations ever got out, it could cause a really huge blowup.  She says she knows the council has the right to forbid the book and they have the right to fire the librarian.  "And, if you do one, you will have to do the other."  She stands up and leaves.  

The council takes a vote and fires the librarian.  Alicia has to leave the library.  She does so. 

Freddie learns from the newspaper that Alicia was fired by the council.  He goes over to see her and they talk about the incident.  He cries when he tries to get her out of trouble.  Alicia tries to get him to understand, but for some reason he cannot. 

The newspaper prints the story of how Alicia was a member of communist front organizations. 

Alicia tells the people at a meeting that she wants to put the controversy to rest.  She says:  "I've left the library and, I believe, we should let it rest at that."  She tells the people that she wants them to drop the issue.  There's some disappointment in the small crowd that Alicia wants to stop the controversy. 

Mrs. Laura Slater tells her husband that she is putting off her trip to see her mother.  She is concerned that Freddie seems so lost and confused over the issue of the dismissal of the librarian.  He seems to think that Mrs. Hull betrayed him in some way.  Her husband thinks that the librarian put some cruddy message into their son's head.  After hearing this conversation, Freddie really does come to believe that Mrs. Hull has done him wrong. 

Alicia comes to Morrissey's to eat.  Morrissey is happy to see her, but quite a few people give her the cold shoulder.  Alicia looks out of the window and sees Freddie walking by on the street with several friends.  She knocks on the window to try to get his attention.  Freddie acts like he doesn't know her.   The boys keeps walking.  Alicia leaves the restaurant and calls over to one of the boys, named Burt.  The kids urge Burt to go see what she wants.  Burt goes over.  Alicia tries to think of reasons to get back into Freddie's favor, but Burt shoots down all her ideas.  So she just tells Burt to tell Freddie to come and see her once in awhile because she misses seeing him. 

The boys start teasing Freddie over his relationship with the red.  Freddie says he knows lots of things about the former librarian that others don't know.  The boys don't believe him and tell him to just go home.  He says that he will show the boys that he does know something secret about Mrs. Hull.  He leaves. 

In the library after closing time, Martha hears some suspicious noises in the library.  She finds Freddie hiding and demands to know what he's doing here.  Freddie runs for it, pushes Martha down and gets out of the library. 

Martha goes over to see Alicia.  She tells her former boss that it's about Freddie Slater.  The boy has become impossible these days.  He's strange and hostile.   He throws the library books around.  Alicia says she's no longer in touch with Freddie anymore.  She is also not very nice to Martha who feels guilty about her small part in the whole controversy. 

Freddie has a nightmare about snakes coming out of books and Mrs. Hull yelling at him.  His father thinks he's helping his son, but he's filling him with all kinds of nonsense about commies being able to pop up anywhere.  And he increases his fear of Mrs. Hull by telling lies about the woman.  He likes to make up things that Mrs. Hull might have done. 

The community has the new children's wing dedicated in a nice ceremony.  Judge Robert comes to fetch Alicia to the ceremony.  The judge says he's inviting her to the ceremony.  That's not satisfactory for Alicia.  She is busy packing her things to go stay with her sister.  She tells Robert that she's tired and beaten.   Especially hurtful to her was the loss of the children's trust and caring. 

At the ceremony Freddie has to go up on the platform and read the names off of the 10 best children's books to the crowd. 

Mrs. Hull shows up at the ceremony with Judge Robert.  They come up on the platform.  Freddie loses his composure and can't say anything.  The mayor has to finish the names of the ten best children's books. 

Now its Judge Robert's turn to officiate the turning over of the soil.  He comes up and says that only person suited for the job is Mrs. Alicia Hull.  He has Alicia stand up.  Only three people clap for her.  She goes down the stairs and shovels some dirt.  She stops and asks Freddie to come down and help an old friend.  Freddie's voice sounds a bit like the devil speaking when he says:  "You're not my friend.  You're not anybody's friend.  They kicked you out.  You don't belong here.  They found out about you.  You want to destroy us.  You're like all the rest of them.  They found out what you were doing.  You don't belong here.  You're not the librarian anymore.  You're a communist, a communist, a communist!"

Freddie's mother stands up and shouts out Freddie's name in shock that her boy could be so filled with such hate and vitriol.  Alicia starts slapping the boy, saying:  "Stop it!  Stop it!"  She also shakes Freddie as if to wake him up from his world of hatred and right wing extremism.  The whole crowd is shocked at this display.  When Alicia stops, Freddie runs away.  His mother runs after him. 

That night Freddie sits on the stands near the library contemplating what he should do.  His father tells people who telephone that Freddie is alright and upstairs sleeping.  The real culprit behind the hatred is George Slater, the father.  He filled his son with hatred by telling him largely mythical tales of evil people surrounding the boy who are just waiting to destroy the United States.  He made Freddie fearful, paranoid and filled him with hate for what the boy thinks is a large group of monstrous spies and saboteurs.  And, of course, the father says it's all the boy's fault.  He asks his wife:  "Didn't he disgrace us enough?  What did we do?  Did we bring him up wrong?"

George reveals himself as a very petty, resentment-filled man unsatisfied with his life and condemning any signs of respect for culture shown by his son and his wife.  He also is unaware that he is driving his wife from him.  She tells George not to just stand there.  Go out and find Freddie. 

Martha too is mad at the man in her life.  She vents her distaste for this whole controversy over one book in the library and labeling Alicia Hull as a communist, thereby ruining her life.  And she says Paul Duncan did this just to give himself a political platform to run for higher office.  Paul walks away from her. 

The council is all upset too.  It's a virtual civil war between common sense and right wing extremism looking for communists under every bed and then labeling people as communist and ruining people's lives, which further hurts the town as a whole.  And it's Paul Duncan who is the real extremist.  He believes that this is so serious, that he refers to the situation as being in a state of active war.  Judge Robert scolds the men because of their going too far with the paranoia and fear. 

Smoke starts to rise from the library interior.  Freddie has set books on fire and the entire library is going to burn down.  Freddie is inside, knocked unconscious as he falls over a cleaning bucket.  They are able to pull Freddie from the fire.  Martha is sickened by all this and she says to Paul:  "Go on.  Tell me again, Paul.  Nothing so terrible has happened.  Only a little boy was turned into a lunatic."  Paul says she needs a drink.  She tells him:  "You just don't get it, do you?  I don't want anymore of it, don't you understand?  I don't want to be engaged to a rising, young politician, who'd rather crawl into a hole somewhere."  Paul leaves Martha again. 

The library continues to burn and so many great works of fiction and non-fiction go up in flames. 

Alicia comes down to watch the library burn down.  Her lawyer mentions to her that they are all to blame for the fire.  Alicia says she's to blame too, because she didn't fight back.  She also says that she's not going to leave.  She is going to stay here and help rebuild the library.  And if anyone ever tries to remove a book from the library, they will have to do it over her dead body. 

 

Right wing extremism has always been a problem in the United States.  Such extremism flourished in the American South and is still rampant there, but now there are areas of the rural mid-West that are also filled with right-wing extremism. This extremism is very closely associated with the problem of racism in these United States.  After all, the most famous right wing organization, the KKK, flourished in the American South and places like Indiana.  There was a recent report on the risk of right-wing organizations getting out of hand and trying to overthrow the United States government.  The southern national politicians put the kibosh on the report even though the report was a very valid one.  And then when a black man was elected to the presidency, namely Obama, the number of right wing extremists groups just exploded.  Right wing extremism often believes in conspiracy theories that say the liberals and radicals are plotting to take over the government and replace it with something called a world government.  These people are crazy, of course, but I can see where if people really believed these conspiracies, as patriots, they would almost have to kill the different authorities in the United States.  And that's what they're doing.  We recently had the Miller couple kill two policemen in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Jerad Miller shot officer Soldo once in the back of the head with a handgun and the shot officer Beck in the throat before he could fire a shot. The Millers then shot Beck several more times as the officer slumped to the floor.  They were right-wing extremists believing the nonsense of the extremist's made-up conspiracy theories.  With this kind of madness running wild in the USA, there are bound to be lots more shootings of police men and women in the country.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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