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Storm Center

Storm Center(1956)

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Working titles of the film were The Library, This Time Tomorrow and Circle of Fire. According to a New York Times article, co-screenwriter and director Daniel Taradash and co-writer Elick Moll began writing the script in October 1950. A November 1951 Daily Variety news item notes that Stanley Kramer would produce the film and that silent film legend Mary Pickford would come out of retirement to play the lead role of "Alicia Hull." Pickford had last appeared onscreen in the 1933 production Secrets (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In an October 1956 New York Times article written by Taradash, he indicated that Kramer had selected Irving Reis to direct the film, which was then scheduled to begin filming in the summer of 1952. A brief postponement caused the production date to be moved to fall of 1952 after Pickford had made tests and costume fittings.
       According to a September 1952 Daily Variety report, after one day of rehearsal, Pickford withdrew from The Library upon discovering that it would be shot in black and white. The item quotes Pickford as saying "I do feel that after my long absence from the screen my return should be in Technicolor." In a modern oral history at the AMPAS Library, Taradash states his belief that Pickford was pressured to withdraw from the film by right wing associates in the film industry, including well-known conservative journalist, Hedda Hopper. Pickford never returned to the screen.
       According to a September 1952 Hollywood Reporter item, within days of Pickford's announcement, Kramer signed Barbara Stanwyck for the lead role, but scheduling conflicts, due to Stanwyck's previous commitment to Twentieth Century-Fox's Titanic (see below), delayed the start of filming. In November 1952, Daily Variety reported that Kramer would postpone production of the film due to continued scheduling conflicts with Stanwyck. In the New York Times article, Taradash indicated that Kramer withdrew from the project after continued disagreements with Columbia, forcing another delay in production. The death of Reis in 1953 placed the film on indefinite hold. Taradash related in the New York Times piece that after the success of From Here To Eternity, for which he wrote the screenplay, he hoped to revive interest in The Storm Center and offered to direct the film himself. In 1955, Taradash and producer Julian Blaustein formed Phoenix Productions and when Blaustein secured Bette Davis in the starring role, Columbia production head Harry Cohn approved Storm Center's production. A July 1955 Daily Variety article reports that Taradash and Moll were requested to turn their original script for The Library into a novel by publishing house J. B. Lippincott, but there is no indication that a deal was ever agreed upon. As noted in an October 1956 New York Times news item, the film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, CA.
       According to a July 1956 Daily Variety news item, upon the release of Storm Center, for only the second time in its twenty-year history, the Legion of Decency "separately classified" a film. The Legion stated that the "propaganda film offers a warped, over simplified emotional solution to the complex problems of civil liberties in American life." The Hollywood Reporter review similarly commented on the film's "over simplification" of Communism and noted the inability of the script to bring together the various plotlines in a more effective manner. A July 1956 Daily Variety column by Joe Schoenfeld debated the Legion's classification of the film, insisting that "it's almost impossible to over-dramatize human liberty whether it's a depiction of Patrick Henry... or a librarian sacrificing her reputation rather than her democratic principles."
       According to a letter in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Motion Picture Association designed a brochure on the film offered to theater owners which included an open letter from Community Relations Department representative Arthur H. DeBra describing Storm Center as a "provocative, intriguing and controversial motion picture" about book burning. The brochure, which was endorsed by the American Library Association, reproduced several questions and answers from a news conference with President Dwight D. Eisenhower after his speech against book burning given at Dartmouth in June 1955.
       In Taradash's oral history, he indicated that his inexperience as a director affected the outcome of the film, including his inability to properly handle young child actor Kevin Coughlin. In her autobiography, Davis states that Storm Center was "an exciting project to me and a subject I felt important to make a film about. The film was not a success at the box office and not in my opinion, because of the subject matter. I never felt it turned out to be a good picture." Storm Center was the only film directed by Taradash.