The Whistler (1944)

“I am the master of mystery! You cannot hide. You can never escape . . . for wherever you go, I will walk beside you!” Based on the immensely popular radio series, The Whistler, this taut little film noir thriller (with a running time of just 59 minutes!) was directed by William Castle and stars Richard Dix (Cimarron) as “Earl C. Conrad,” an industrialist grieving over the death of his wife who decides to end it all by hiring an assassin to do the job (he can’t bring himself to commit suicide). However, as soon as Conrad works out the deal, he discovers his wife is still alive and he tries frantically to call off the contract. Conrad’s paranoia increases since he does not know the killer as he makes his way from greasy diners to flophouses and shipyards. In his autobiography, Castle remarked, “I tried every effect I could dream up to create a mood of terror,” including low-key lighting, wide-angle lenses and a hand-held camera. Budgeted at just $75,000, The Whistler was the first of eight “Whistler films (and arguably the best) produced by Columbia Pictures during the 1940s. Cast includes Gloria Stuart (Titanic) as Conrad’s potential love interest, “Alice Walker,” as well as J. Carroll Naish as “The Killer” and Alan Dinehart as “Gorman.” An uncredited Otto Forrest supplied the “Voice of the Whistler,” who offers up some great atmospheric opening and closing dialogue. Interestingly, Dix starred in seven out of the eight Whistler films and played a different character in each. The final film in the series, The Return of the Whistler (1948), which did not star Dix, reportedly bombed at the box office. Castle would go on to direct such “gimmick films” as House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959).

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