Monday, June 14, 2010

The Whistler Movies – Operation: 101010

So it looks like I have managed to finish another one of my Operation: 101010 categories as I have watched the entire series of Whistler movies over the last few weeks:

The Whistler
The Mark of the Whistler
The Power of the Whistler
Voice of the Whistler
Mysterious Intruder
The Secret of the Whistler
The Thirteenth Hour
The Return of the Whistler

Eagle eyed readers of my blog will notice two things:

First of all, yes, this is a new category. I had previously not chosen these movies as contenders for the Operation: 101010 as I wasn't aware at the start of the year that I would watch them all or even that I would finally be able to get a hold of anyone of those productions. As such I am dropping my Mario Bava challenge and replace it with these films.

See, the original Whistler movie from 1944 was always one of my absolute favourite  films. I first watched it in the early 1980s on German television. Usually movies there are always dubbed but in this case they showed the flick in English with German subs. Which meant that this was one of the very first shows that I was able to practice my school English on. That alone was a fab experience for a young movie/language buff.

But the film itself also had me hooked outside of the language challenge. At first glance this is nothing much more than yet another take on Jules Verne's TRIBULATIONS OF A CHINAMAN IN CHINA: Man hires his own killer, then comes across news that'll make him want to live again but can't seem to be able to cancel his contract. Hammer itself had also once covered this ground with Paid to Kill/Five Days, yet another unofficial Verne adaptation.

For me The Whistler was the first time I remember coming across this premise and it had me hooked for the novelty factor alone then as I really liked the moral conundrum posed by this scenario shrouded in the mood of a classic bargain basement Film Noir.

Even more importantly I really liked the persona of the actual Whistler, a mysterious figure of the night who we only ever see as a shadow on the wall and who acts as the omniscient narrator of the movie. In this first entry of what was ultimately going to become a series, the character also acts somewhat as a convenient Deus ex Machina as his idiosyncratic whistling tune approaching the scene of a crime is also indirectly responsible for events taking a slight turn one way or the other.

The character of the Whistler was based on the eponymous classic radio series that ran from 1942 to 1955. These moody half hour mystery shows always ended in a (sometimes-not-so) surprise twist and always started off with The Whistler's immortal words:

“I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes ... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.”

The movies weren't really all that focused on surprise twists but instead relayed good basic Noir plot standards. From the second film on The Whistler (and more in line with the radio show) also exclusively became a narrator again and was never again responsible for turning things around with his sudden appearances.

What set those films apart is that with the exception of the last one they all starred Richard Dix, however, never in the same role twice. Sometimes a villain, sometimes a victim, he graced 7 of the 8 films with his solid performances and deep, melifluous voice.

The reason these films succeeded despite the fact that they had been very cheaply produced is that they had such reliable talent in front of and behind the camera. Half of the films were directed by a pre-gimmick William Castle in some of his first outings. Two of those (The Mark of the Whistler, Return of the Whistler) also were based on stories written by Roman Noir ace Cornell Woolrich.

So needless to say: Did those films hold up well?

Hell yeah!

Apart from the first film I had also seen one or two of the others as well before (though couldn't quite tell you which ones they were). So when I finally had a chance to revisit these as well as the remaining films of the series I jumped at it though with a slight dread as to whether my memory may have been playing tricks with me. Nothing worse than rediscovering a teenage classic that would have better been left alone as a rose tinted memento in one's personal memory box.

Not so with this series. I cherished every single moment of every single one of those hour long features. Even the last one without Dix had not suffered from that dreaded serial malaise but instead had one of the series' most outstanding plots courtesy of Cornell Woolrich's original Noir story.

In case I haven't made myself entirely clear but this is by far the best classic film series you likely never heard of before and a prime contender for a classic in most urgent need of a DVD release. I understand that in the US some (though not all) of these movies may show up every once in a while on TCM. If they do, then do yourself a favour and set the timer the next time this may be on.

I mentioned at the start of this post that you may notice two things about this Operation: 101010 entry and the second aspect is that the Whistler series of course only contains eight movies, not ten as generally required for this challenge. To this I have a choice of the following responses:

My challenge. My rules. Live with it.

Alternatively - and to be a bit less confrontational - I may highlight that I have also listened to a couple of the original Whistler radio shows since the start of this year. They are available on, but I also have them stored on numerous CDs from way back when I first came across them. So if I extend the challenge to an overall Whistler challenge on film and radio, I could easily close the gap.

And as a last possibility to show you I wasn't slacking I could also highlight that I have watched two Mario Bava movies for my previous (now dropped) challenge and could of course also just add them:

Roy Colt & Winchester Jack
The Road to Fort Alamo

Yes, two Bava Westerns. Say what you want but if there is one thing Bava is not, it is a Western director. Both productions verged between the utterly ridiculous (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) and the utterly Meh. Certainly not two of his master works.

Either way, pop the cork. Another category down, eight more to go. Will I make all ten categories until the end of this year? Only time will tell.

Oh, and do yourself a favour and drop by this website dedicated to Richard Dix with a wonderful collection of Whistlerana.

1 comment:

Matthew Coniam said...

I don't know these at all! They sound wonderful.