(director: William Castle; screenwriter: Eric Taylor/from a story by J. Donald Wilson; cinematographer: James S. Brown, Jr.; editor: Jerome Thoms; cast: Richard Dix (Earl Conrad), J. Carrol Naish (The Killer), Gloria Stuart (Alice Walker), Alan Dinehart (Gorman), Don Costello (Lefty Vigran), Joan Woodbury (Toni Vigran), Otto Forrest (The Whistler), Robert Emmett Keane (Charles McNear), Trevor Bardette (The Thief), George Lloyd (Bill Toomey), Charles Coleman (Jennings, The Butler), Robert E. Homans (Dock Watchman), William Benedict (The Deaf-mute), Cy Kendall(The Bartender), Byron Foulger (Flop-house desk clerk); Runtime: 60; Columbia; 1944)
“The film’s theme is that man cannot change his destiny, and if his destiny is to die by murder…that’s what it will be.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This action-packed one-hour mystery story was the first film in a series spun off from the successful radio program of the ’30s and ’40s. It starts off with some whistling and a monologue by the unseen Whistler, just as it was done on radio: “I am the Whistler…and I know many things, for I walk by night.” Richard Dix is the featured player in this 8 film series, and he has already played in the series a private detective, a fall guy, and a villain. In this episode, directed by William Castle, he’s a tormented plastic manufacturer whose wife drowned at sea while he was on a European trip with her. He has never recovered from that incident which took place 3 years ago, feeling guilty that he saved other lives but couldn’t rescue her.
The film opens with industrialist Earl Conrad (Dix) looking nervous and out of place in a tough waterfront bar called The Crow’s Nest. He meets with a gangster called Lefty Vigra (Costello) on Tuesday evening and gives him $10,000 to kill someone by this Friday. The gangster doesn’t know that the businessman took out a contract on himself.
When Earl leaves, Lefty calls his wife (Woodbury) with orders for the hit. She has a deaf-mute kid, who was reading a Superman comic book by the bar, deliver the message to the hit man (J. Carroll Naish). He’s reading a book entitled “The Studies of Necrophobia,” which is the exaggerated fear of death, when the kid slips the message of the contract under the door.
As Lefty is about to leave the bar, the bartender tells him there are a number of cops in front. When Lefty tries to get away through the back entrance, he’s shot by the cops who tell him he’s wanted under another name as a cop killer.
Meanwhile Earl prepares for his death by giving his butler $5,000 severance pay and tells his business partner Charlie that he’s leaving his half of the business to his secretary Alice Walker (Stuart), whom he has taught everything about running the firm.
A telegram comes stating that Earl’s wife is alive, that she’s in a Japanese internment camp. With this good news Earl wants to cancel the contract, but with Lefty dead he can’t find out how to get in touch with the killer.
The killer is a man of principle, who feels obligated to do the hit even though he’s been paid and Lefty’s dead. He reasons that the one who hired him expects the job done. This well-done suspense story continues with the panicky Earl trying to track down the killer to cancel the contract, while the killer thinks he can scare his target to death by just tailing him.
The film’s theme is that man cannot change his destiny, and if his destiny is to die by murder…that’s what it will be. The Whistler states at the end: “I know because I am the Whistler.” The result is an entertaining B film.
REVIEWED ON 7/15/2001 GRADE: B-