Whistler, The (1944)

“Do you know that some people actually die of fright?”

Whistler Poster

Synopsis:
A man (Richard Dix) despondent over the death of his wife puts out a contract on his own life; when he discovers his wife is still alive, however, he tries to reverse the contract, only to find that the man he originally contacted (Don Costello) has been killed, and a hired hitman (J. Carrol Naish) is determined to complete his job.

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Review:
Based on one of the most popular radio mystery serials in American history, The Whistler offers a surprisingly effective cinematic translation of the show’s formulaic intrigue and suspense. Director William Castle — who went on to greater glory as the “schlockmeister” behind films such as The Tingler (1959) and Strait-Jacket (1964) — reportedly used “creative tactics” to elicit a suitably haggard and tense performance from wooden leading man Richard Dix, who wanders through the one-hour film desperate to reverse a chain of events he himself has put into motion; we can’t help vicariously experiencing his anxiety. Despite a few minor plot holes, The Whistler is worth a look both for its cultural significance and for the simple yet honest enjoyment it brings. Listen for the iconic opening whistled tune, which surely was an influence on Ennio Morricone’s scores for the “Man With No Name” films.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effectively stark cinematography
    Whistler Cinematography
  • A clever screenplay with many suspenseful twists
    Whistler Screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little B-thriller.

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One Response to “Whistler, The (1944)”

  1. I wouldn’t call it a must, but I almost want to…because the main idea is such a clever one. You would think that, in an hour’s time, such a simple and inventive plot-base could be carried out in a straightforward, compact way. Instead, though the premise stands out clearly and effectively, what surrounds and ‘supports’ it more or less meanders in a haphazard and, at times, needlessly confusing way. As a result, the short film just begins to wear out its welcome. A shame, really. It’s still not a waste of time but, considering its potential, a disappointment.

    Castle would, indeed, go on “to greater glory”. 😉

    While watching, I soon realized the basic story was extremely familiar: though the two films differ in the details, Aki Kaurismaki basically remade ‘The Whistler’ in 1990 as ‘I Hired a Contract Killer’.

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