(director: Leslie Fenton; screenwriters: Frank R. Butler/Karl Kamb/from the book by Frank H. Spearman; cinematographer: Ray Rennahan; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Alan Ladd (Luke “Whispering” Smith), Brenda Marshall (Marian Sinclair), Robert Preston (Murray Sinclair), Donald Crisp (Barney Rebstock), William Demarest (Bill Dansing), Fay Holden (Emmy Dansing), Ray Teal (Seagrue), John Eldredge (George McCloud), Murvyn Vye (Blake Barton), Frank Faylen (Whitey DuSong); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mel Epstein; Paramount; 1948)
“Remains lightly entertaining throughout.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Crisply made action-packed Western as directed by former actor Leslie Fenton. It remains lightly entertaining throughout. It’s based on the book by Frank H. Spearman and scripted by Frank R. Butler and Karl Kamb. Alan Ladd superbly plays the role of ace railroad detective Whispering Smith, a role made famous by old-time cowboy star W.S. Hart.
The exciting opening scene has Whispering Smith’s horse shot out from under him by the Barton brothers, a notorious gang of train robbers that Smith is after. Smith manages to get to the train the brothers are about to rob and foils the robbery, killing two of the brothers. But the leader Blake Barton escapes, Smith gets nicked in the shoulder and one of the trainmen is killed. Smith stays at the home of his childhood friend Murray Sinclair (Robert Preston), who married the girl he loved, Marian Sinclaire (Brenda Marshall). She is happy to see Smith again and treats his wounds, and frets that her hubby has changed ever since becoming involved in business deals with crooked rancher Barney Rebstock (Donald Crisp). Murray has a big spread, which doesn’t add up since his pay working for the railway as head of a maintenance crew is not much.
The new train supervisor George McCloud (John Eldredge) is strictly a by-the-book man and takes an immediate dislike to the rough-and-tumble Murray who acts impulsively and disregards the rules. McCloud is pleased with Smith, especially when he guns down Blake Barton after putting the pressure on Barney that he knows he’s hiding the outlaw.
During a train wreck, Murray is caught stealing brandy and other goods. When ordered to unload them by McCloud, he refuses and gets fired. Further fueled by jealousy that his wife loves Smith and that his friend sided with the railroad, Murray becomes partners with Barney and his ruthless henchman Whitey (Frank Faylen). Murray derails the trains and Barney’s boys rob them. After three such incidents, Smith returns to town and tries to get Murray to leave town before it’s too late. But Murray refuses, and pulls off another train robbery where Whitey kills the guard. The sheriff and a posse go after Barney and his men, while Smith and Bill Dansing (William Demarest), a close friend of Murray’s, go after Murray in the hopes of bringing him in alive.
If scrutinized further, Ladd should have arrested his friend immediately when he returned to town since he had the evidence against him. By not doing so, the guard was unnecessarily killed. Somehow the morality of that decision got fudged over (siding with loyalty being more important than doing what’s right).
REVIEWED ON 7/10/2005 GRADE: B