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Whiplash

Whiplash(1948)

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teaser Whiplash (1948)

Warner Bros. became the premier tough guy studio in the 1930s, thanks to popular stars such as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. By the mid-1940s, New Yorker John Garfield was one of the studio's top tough guys, and Warners made sure that they had Garfield successors in the bullpen. One of them was Brooklyn-born Dane Clark, who was signed by the studio in 1943, and like Garfield, had come from New York's socially-conscious Group Theater. One of Garfield's biggest postwar hits was the film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), made on loanout to MGM, and shortly after his Warners contract ended, Garfield began working on the boxing drama Body and Soul (1947) for his own production company. Warners then put Clark into Whiplash (1948), a nifty, twisted noir about art, boxing, jealousy and revenge.

Dane Clark plays Mike, a talented painter living in a picturesque coastal town near San Francisco. A mysterious woman named Laurie (Alexis Smith) buys one of his paintings, and the two fall in love. But she leaves abruptly, and he follows her to New York. Once there, he finds out that she's married to crippled former boxer Rex Durant (Zachary Scott). After a brawl that proves Mike is as good with his fists as he is with his paintbrush, Mike eventually agrees (to spite Laurie) to accept Durant's offer to train him as a boxer. He even takes as his pugilist name "Mike Angelo," in honor of the Renaissance genius. Then the noir fun begins.

The boxing scenes in Whiplash came easily to Clark -- he had briefly tried boxing as a young man in the 1930s. Like Garfield, Clark so excelled in tough guy roles that it may be surprising to learn that he graduated from Cornell University and attended law school. But during the depression, there were few jobs for lawyers, so he did all kinds of work to make a buck, including boxing, construction, baseball, and modeling. Eventually he drifted into acting, and after achieving some success on the New York stage, Clark was signed by Warner Bros., where he joined the tough-guy roster that included his friend Garfield and Humphrey Bogart, who suggested that he change his name from Bernard Zanville to Dane Clark.

When she appeared in Whiplash, Alexis Smith was seven years into her Warners contract, where her cool elegance had led her to be typecast as aloof socialites, or in "other woman" roles. It also made her ideal for film noir femmes fatales. Smith rarely had an opportunity to show off her singing and dancing talents, and even though she plays a nightclub singer in Whiplash, her voice appears to be dubbed. It wasn't until she starred on Broadway in the 1971 Stephen Sondheim musical Follies that she wowed audiences with her musical skills, and won a Tony.

Zachary Scott was also often typecast, as a suave and ruthless villain. Before he appeared in Whiplash, Warner Bros. had loaned him out for his previous two films, which had given him more dimensional roles. In MGM's Cass Timberlane (1947), he played Spencer Tracy's friend, who falls in love with Tracy's younger wife, Lana Turner. Although Scott played a cad in Ruthless (1948), made for the independent Producing Artists, he was the leading man, and his cad was a complex one. That's not the case in Whiplash, and a review in the Hollywood Reporter noted that "Zachary Scott's melodramatic role is hardly an assignment worthy of the capable actor." Maybe not, but it's always entertaining to watch Scott be nasty.

Whiplash marked one of Jeffrey Lynn's first screen appearances after serving in World War II. For once he wasn't typecast as the bland nice guy he'd been playing since his film debut a decade earlier, in movies such as Four Daughters (1938). His character in Whiplash, a conflicted doctor, gives him a chance to play against type. Part of the fun of the film is the supporting cast, including superb character actors Eve Arden, at her wisecracking best, and S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, full of dithery charm. And look for Jimmie Dodd, the grownup Mousketeer of 1950s TV's The Mickey Mouse Club, in a bit part as a piano player.

Whiplash was the second feature film writing credit for Harriet Frank Jr. The daughter of a Hollywood story editor, Frank entered MGM's young writers training program after World War II, where she met her husband and future collaborator, Irving Ravetch. The two did not begin writing together until a decade later. One of their first collaborations was The Long, Hot Summer (1958), which was also the first of eight films the couple made with director Martin Ritt, including Hud (1963) and Norma Rae (1980), both of which earned them Academy Award nominations.

By Margarita Landazuri

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Director: Lewis Seiler
Producer: William Jacobs
Screenplay: Maurice Geraghty, Harriet Frank Jr.
Cinematography: Peverell Marley
Editor: Frank Magee
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Charles H. Clarke
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Dane Clark (Michael Gordon), Alexis Smith (Laurie Rogers Durant), Zachary Scott (Rex Durant), Eve Arden (Chris Sherwood), Jeffrey Lynn (Dr. Arnold Vincent), S.Z. Sakall (Sam), Alan Hale (Terrence O'Leary), Douglas Kennedy (Costello), Jimmie Dodd (Bill the piano player)
89 minutes

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