WHIP HAND, THE
(director/writer: William Cameron Menzies; screenwriters: from a story by Roy Hamilton/Frank L. Moss/George Bricker; cinematographer: Nick Musuraca; editor: Robert Golden; cast: Carla Balenda (Janet Koller), Elliot Reid (Matt Corbin), Edgar Barrier (Dr. Edward Koller), Raymond Burr (Steve Loomis), Otto Waldis (Dr. Willem Bucholtz), Michael Steele (Chick), Lurene Tuttle (Molly Loomis), Peter Brocco (Nate Garr), Lewis Martin (Peterson), Frank Darien (Luther Adams), Olive Carey (Mabel Turner); Runtime: 82; RKO; 1951)
“The story of a Commie town made up of ex-Nazis prospering in the middle of America is hard to swallow, but as sheer entertainment value this one somehow works.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This 1951 film was made when America was in the middle of the demagogic Senator McCarthy Commie witch hunts. It was originally written and filmed as a story about Adolph Hitler surviving and living secretly in a quiet fishing town, preparing with his fellow Nazis to conquer the world again; but, it’s remade here as a story about Commies planning to destroy America with germ warfare. Howard Hughes originally entitled it “The Man He Found,” but on second thought felt the Red Menace presented a film with a more modern impact for audiences. Despite being shot again, the film still cost the studio only $376,000.
A photo-journalist for the popular magazine, American View, Matt Corbin (Elliot Reid), using an outdated guidebook, goes trout fishing in a lake by a small Middle American town called Winnoga. Matt has a bad fishing day since there are no fish in the water, and when leaving he accidentally hits his head on some rocks. This causes a bad gash needing medical attention, but he takes the wrong road to town and winds up in a secluded area that says no trespassers. When he asks for help at the fortress lakeside lodge of a Mr. Peterson (Martin), he’s met with a stern warning by the caretaker to clear out. There are also barking guard dogs ready to tear him to pieces.
Reaching town Matt finds few people there, but those present are unfriendly and are peculiarly reticent. The doctor, Edward Koller (Edgar Barrier), stitches him up, while the Doc’s attractive, unmarried sister, Janet (Carla Balenda), lovingly bandages him up. The Doc tells him there are no fish here anymore, there was a virus 5 years ago that killed them all off. Matt’s taken to the inn of Steve Loomis (Burr), who encourages him to go tomorrow to another spot where there is great fishing. The only person in town who will talk to him is an ornery 79-year-old storekeeper, Luther Adams (Frank Darien), who tells him this town has changed into a ghost town since the newcomers have arrived about the same time the virus hit. They bought up all the land real cheap, and are always spying on him while remaining secretive about their activities. Luther was one of the few old-timers who refused to sell and leave.
The action picks up when the journalist is sure he smells a good story, and decides not to go fishing but stay and write the story of a town that became deserted because there were no fish in the lake. When he snoops by the lakeside lodge, he spots scientific experiments going on and they are being carried out by someone he recognizes — a crazed Nazi scientist named Bucholtz (Otto Waldis), wanted for war crimes by our government, who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain in 1946.
Matt runs into problems of how to get word to the outside world since his car is put out of use by them and the telephone operator, Molly (Lurene Tuttle), listens in to all calls made and refuses to connect outside calls she doesn’t approve of.
Luther ingeniously gets Matt’s message warning of Bucholtz being located, and he notifies the magazine editor — who notifies the FBI. But Matt realizes that it’s dangerous to remain in town and talks Janet into taking the boat across the lake to escape from the Commies who have taken over the town. It turns out even her brother is willing to kill her, and there’s no one around to help the two escapees since her brother murdered Luther with a lethal drug injection. They, thereby, get trapped and are taken to the lodge as prisoners. Bucholtz tells them they will be used as guinea pigs for experiments on germ warfare, as he has many other human subjects in a drugged zombie condition behind locked doors. They are political prisoners of the Commies, as the experiments done on them will make it possible for Commie agents on the ground to use the germs developed to destroy the water system, infect the population with bubonic plague, and destroy all the American cities.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
The climax comes when the Feds blast their way through the Commie compound and Janet’s brother can’t go through with destroying his sister, as he ends up giving up his life to help her. The evil Bucholtz, when confronted by the Feds, has locked himself in the glass experimental room with all the other walking dead guinea pigs and threatens to explode a bomb which will disperse the deadly germs across America. But Matt manages to get the key from the doctor and tackle the lunatic scientist just in time.
For a propaganda film, this one is not bad. It’s far superior to other such films on this topic made during the 1950s (such as The Red Menace). Of course, the story of a Commie town made up of ex-Nazis prospering in the middle of America is hard to swallow, but as sheer entertainment value this one somehow works. It’s directed by the very capable William Cameron Menzies, the noted art director whose talents greatly enhanced films such as GWTW.
REVIEWED ON 6/19/2001 GRADE: B