Monday, May 11, 2009

Storm Center (1956)

Bette Davis as an old librarian striking a blow against censorship while simultaneously sending a small town into a panic of the Red Menace and disturbing a young boy into having some seriously f*cked up dreams! Amazing but true!

Storm Center is probably one of the oddest entries in Bette Davis' filmography, simply because it's so outrageous and farfetched. Davis plays Alicia Hull, a older lady who played a pivotal role in the creation of the town library and the new wing that is being made as the film begins. One of the frequent visitors to the library is young Kevin, a bookish boy who is, of course, bullied by his father. That plot alone is worthy of a Disney Channel original movie, but things are thrown out of whack when Alicia refuses to remove "The Communist Dream" from the library shelves when asked to by the city council. Of course, Alicia denounces the book, claiming it to be garbage, but she respects the right for citizens to be able to read the book, should they want to. Well, this little town goes apesh*t and suddenly Alicia is public enemy #1, because apparently she is communist. There's a small sub-plot about a fellow librarian dating an ambitious politician, but seriously, no one really cares. But I do care about is when the movie takes a severe turn into the bizarre.

(SPOILERS) What happens is, this apparent betrayal to poor Kevin that his spinster mentor is a flag-waving, card-carrying Comrade (or so he hears) sends the little kid off the f*cking rocker. At the opening of the new Library Wing, Alicia is asked by the one councilman who thinks that the town may be overreacting to come and cut the red ribbon. Well, Kevin will have none of that and begins yelling at Alicia, something like "Get out of here! We don't want you! You're a communist! Communist! Communist!" Well, Bette has had ENOUGH, so she beats the ever-loving sh*t out of this little kid. I kid you not, she smacks him around until she realizes the kid's mother is there and stops. Kevin runs off and the combination of a beating about the head and some truly messed up dreams about Alicia opening up books and snakes coming out of them (Seriously, the kid has become afraid of BOOKS), leads to the kid sneaking into the library and setting that Sh*t on fire. Unfortunately for him, he trips and is knocked out and is saved from burning to death at the last minute (though he could die of smoke inhalation, we never know). The townspeople realize what they've done and Alicia promises to rebuild the library.

The film itself is kind of hard to evaluate, because it does turn into such a bizarre little tale. Bette Davis is, of course, great in the role, but the film is way too heavy-handed in how it deals with the whole Black-Listing Red Scare topic. It goes way out of control especially given such a minor start. Maybe that in itself serves some lesson, but a librarian keeping a book on the shelves and then escalating to a child essentially losing his grip on reality and becoming a little pyromaniac seems laughable.

But the film is relatively short, and it's just so odd that it's worth a watch.

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