Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Whispering Smith

Whispering Smith
Dir. James Neilson
Starring: Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Brenda Marshall,  Donald Crisp

Luke "Whispering" Smith (Ladd) comes to town in order to investigate the large number of train wrecks that have been occurring in the area. After reuniting with old friend Murray Sinclair (Preston) and later learning that his friend is involved with Barney Rebstock (Crisp) the rancher that is suspected of causing the accidents, the stage is set of a final showdown between two old friends.

The movie is kind of odd,  Smith is sent to town by the railroad to stop some whomever is responsible for crashing the trains, but at first it seem like that is going to a fairly simple story about him looking for a group of bandit brothers, it quickly takes a detour and becomes more interesting.

That interesting detour is the arc for the character of Murray Sinclair, and the best thing about the film. At the beginning of the film Sinclair is excited to see his old friend Smith again, but as the story progresses, things begin to change. First it’s revealed that Smith and Murray’s wife, Marian (Marshall), used to be together. Murray starts to become jealous of Smith, and it’s revealed that Murray has been using his position in charge of the railroad’s wrecking crew to falsely claim that some products are damaged and use them for personal gain. When this is revealed and Smith sides with the railroad, causing Murray to lose his job and leading him to being assisting Rebstock in the train heists. The film is really good about how it handles Sinclair’s decent into villainy, either starting with some simple petty jealously towards his wife’s attention to Smith, to him blaming Smith over his firing due to his own wrong doing, to him siding with Rebstock and becoming straight up evil. The movie has a great montage of him collaborating with Rebstock and attacking trains, and ends with and explosion which dissolves to Murray’s laughing face, looking like a devil:

Alan Ladd is good as the title character, but he isn’t really given a lot of interesting things to do. He’s basically a bland white hat that shows up to stop bad guys. He does the best that he could with what he was given. But this is really Preston’s film. He is great in the film, believably presenting a character that slowly becomes evil in a way that seems natural. Frank Faylen is also good as evil albino goon Whitey Du Sang, and he is drastically different than he was as Dobie Gillis’s dad, which is what he is most known for. He does give the film a sense of menace.

It’s not the best Ladd western, but it’s enjoyable. Robert Preston is great in the film, and it’s worth watching for him and his character's story arc alone. But it’s a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

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