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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Classic Movies for the Perfect Storm

Recently the news kept referring to “the perfect storm”. It was talking about the latest natural disaster, Hurricane Sandy but it made me think of a George Clooney movie. It also made me think about all the classic movies in which a storm plays a major role. You may be surprised to learn there are a lot, and that the natural disaster is one of Hollywood’s all time greatest villains.

Long before Charlie Chaplin ever attempted his own famous trek through the barren waste lands of Alaska in The Gold Rush “Little Eva” blindly made her way across ice floes during a blizzard in the silent version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ever after mothers in the movies of the era were often seen grasping their babies to their breasts as they staggered through snowstorms. Thus began cinema’s great portrayal of nature as man’s mortal enemy, combatting his will of strength via the weather and its harsh after effects.

In The Grapes of Wrath the Joads and thousands of other okies were fleeing the devastation of the drought of the mid-west. I believe there was even a John Wayne movie (with Gabby Hayes if I remember correctly) where he played a young doctor who eventually leads a Model T type wagon train out of the dust bowl – or maybe that was Joel McCrea. It may have been both of them, in separate movies; the terrifying storms of dust that ate up the plains states were a popular theme during the nineteen thirties.

Of course there are other tragic outcomes to extreme situations forced upon people struggling against the elements. More than one film has been made about the Donner party. I mean: pioneers, whiteouts, and cannibalism, what’s not for a screenwriter to love? Snow fell heavily when Jimmy Stewart’s character considered suicide in It’s a Wonderful Life, and it blanketed the screen in Island In The Sky, an under rated John Wayne film with a fantastic cast I would brave any storm to see. On the other hand there are a few benefits. In The Call of The Wild (a Clark Gable/Loretta Young movie) the leading couple flew through the deadly blizzard on a dog sled only to end up cozy in a cabin while the storm blew over.

Then there are the films that deal with the rain and all of its manifestations. Noah of course has been dealt with deluges countless times throughout the decades on the big screen. And Dorothy Lamour appeared in two watery epics, first with Raymond Massey in The Hurricane in 1937 and then with Robert Preston in Typhoon in 1940. Both storms could have been the great grand parent of Sandy. Originally I thought they were overdoing the drama and the damage a bit the first time I saw it. However, after recently viewing the current news coverage of what’s left of some of the barrier islands I‘d say the old movies were right on with their dramatic depictions.

Storms, or really nasty weather in some form, makes a good villain and provides an important sense of danger as a bit player. Sadly, it’s an all too realistic one for many. That’s why watching a movie where the hero or heroine struggle through and survive makes for some very fine “dark and dreary night” entertainment. That is, as long as it stays on the screen.

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