Cast & Crew
J. Carrol Naish
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In a cheap bar, Earl Conrad hires Lefty Vigran to arrange for his murder by the following Friday. After Vigran agrees to take the job, he hands a slip of paper bearing Conrad's name and address to a deaf-mute and instructs him to deliver it to the killer. When Vigran leaves the bar that night, he is shot and killed by two police officers for resisting arrest. Meanwhile, Conrad returns home and fires his butler, Jennings, offering him $5,000 in severance pay. The next day, Conrad, the part owner of a small manufacturing company, notifies his partner, Charles McNear, and his secretary, Alice Walker, that he is leaving the firm. Conrad then confides to Alice that he blames himself for the death of his wife Claire. Conrad explains that he convinced Claire to take a cruise with him in hopes of saving their marriage. When the ship sank, Conrad saved several of the passengers, but let Claire slip out of his arms, and consequently feels responsible for her death. That night, Conrad returns home and is startled by a man who claims to be a repairman from the phone company. Conrad is certain that the repairman is really his assassin until the man discovers that the phone lines have been cut, fixes them and leaves. The killer, who is lurking in the shadows, is about to act when Alice rings the doorbell, concerned about Conrad. From the window, the killer takes aim at Conrad but is interrupted by the sound of whistling. The killer then goes to his room and is greeted by his friend, Gorman. While conversing with Gorman, the killer conceives of the idea of frightening Conrad to death. The next day at the office, Alice hands Conrad a telegram from the Red Cross, notifying him that Claire is alive and is a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp. His desire to live renewed, Conrad tries to contact Vigran to cancel the contract. Upon learning that Vigran is dead, Conrad returns to the scene of their meeting to question the bartender. A woman at the bar overhears the conversation, and after the bartender leaves, she offers to drive Conrad to a roadhouse frequented by Vigran. As they wind their way along a mountainous road, the woman reveals that she is Vigran's wife Toni and accuses Conrad of arranging her husband's death. Announcing that she plans to avenge her husband, Toni speeds recklessly around the hairpin curves, attracting that attention of a police car. The police pursue Toni, and she sends her car spinning out of control, over a cliff. Toni is killed in the wreck, but Conrad escapes and stumbles home, weak and disheveled. Alice, who is in love with Conrad, is waiting for him there. When two men, claiming to be police, arrive at the door, Conrad flees out the back and takes refuge in a flophouse. The killer trails him there and rents a bed. In the middle of the night, Conrad is awakened by a bum and warned that the clerk is calling the police about him. The bum leads Conrad into a basement and is about to rob him when the killer shoots the bum from the window. The next day, Conrad, exhausted, sees a newspaper headline proclaiming that he is an amnesia victim and asking for the public's help in locating him. Aware that he is being followed by the killer, Conrad goes to the harbor, where he collapses. He is revived by the dock watchman, who recognizes him from the picture in the paper. After helping Conrad to shelter, the watchman goes to call Alice. Alice has just received word that Claire has died in the internment camp when the watchman phones with news that he has found Conrad. Alice hurries to the docks, but when she arrives, Conrad is missing. Conrad, irrational from fear and exhaustion, has decided to stow away on a Red Cross Mercy ship, but is discovered by the police and escorted to the harbor master's office. Alice finds him there and as they talk, the killer takes aim from the window and shoots. He misses Conrad, but the police fire back and kill him.
J. Carrol Naish
Robert E. Keane
James S. Brown
Rudolph C. Flothow
George Van Marter
J. Donald Wilson
The Whistler (1944)
The Whistler was the first of eight Columbia B-pictures that would be based on the popular radio series, The Whistler. Richard Dix (who appeared in all of the films except the last, alternating between playing victims and villains) stars as Earl Conrad, a man who believes his wife has died in an accident. Depressed beyond repair, Conrad opts to end it all by hiring a hit man to kill him (J. Carrol Naish). Things get complicated, however, when the wife turns out to be alive (she was being held by the Japanese on a Pacific island!), but Dix can't find the hit man to call off his own murder. The "Whistler" of the title, by the way, is a never-seen narrator who introduces the stories, just as he did on the radio show.
Castle was embarrassed by the drubbing The Chance of a Lifetime received, and was flabbergasted when Harry Cohn insisted that he was going to direct another film. Cohn felt that the critics were basically being uppity when they laid into Castle's efforts. So, just to show them who was boss, he handed Castle the script for The Whistler and told him it would be his next picture. In his entertaining autobiography, Step Right Up: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, Castle recalled that Cohn (supposedly) said, "Look at Capra, Stevens, Cukor, Mamoulian, LaCava, Hawks, Lubitsch...you don't think they had flops?"
Castle thought the material was great this time around, and decided to pull out all the directorial stops. "I tried every effect I could dream up to create a mood of terror," he wrote. He utilized everything, including "low-key lighting, wide-angle lenses to give an eerie feeling and a hand-held camera in many of the important scenes to give a sense of reality to the horror." Cohn, however, vetoed Castle's plan to have a person dressed as Dix's character run up the theater aisle, screaming bloody murder during key scenes. Castle would have to wait until later in his career to wield that type of subtlety.
Castle, who seemed to forever think outside the box and then some, pulled a strong performance from Dix by giving the actor an industrial-strength case of real-life jitters: "To achieve a mood of desperation, I insisted that Dix give up smoking and go on a diet. This made him nervous and irritable, particularly when I gave him early-morning calls and kept him waiting on the set - sometimes for an entire day before using him in a scene."
This approach worked wonders in creating the proper mood, not that Dix was enjoying it. "(Dix) was constantly off-center, restless, fidgety, and nervous as a cat. When I finally used him in a scene, I'd make him do it over and over again until he was ready to explode. It achieved the desired effect - that of a man haunted by fear and trying to keep from being murdered."
Let that be lesson to you kids out there- eat right and never start smoking.
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: William Castle
Screenplay: Eric Taylor (based on a story by Donald Wilson, suggested by the radio program The Whistler)
Cinematography: James S. Brown, Jr.
Editor: Jerome Thoms
Music: Wilbur Hatch
Art Design: George Van Marter
Special Effects: Chuck Gaspar, Linc Kibbee
Set Design: Sidney Clifford
Cast: Richard Dix (Earl Conrad), J. Carrol Naish (The Killer), Gloria Stuart (Alice Walker), Alan Dinehart (Gorman), Joan Woodbury (Toni Vigran), Cy Kendall (Bartender), Trevor Bardette (The Thief), Don Costello (Lefty Vigran), Clancy Cooper (Briggs), Byron Foulger (Flophouse Clerk), Robert Emmett Keane (Charles McNear), George Lloyd (Bill Tomley), Charles Coleman (Jennings), Robert E. Homans (Dock Watchman), Otto Forrest (The Whistler).
by Paul Tatara
The Whistler (1944)
This was the first entry in Columbia "Whistler" series. Although not conceived as part of a series, audience reaction to this film was so favorable that the studio decided to produce more "Whistler" pictures, according to Hollywood Reporter. The series, which was based on a popular CBS radio series of the same name, consisted of eight films. The last entry was the 1948 film The Return of the Whistler. Richard Dix starred in all but the last film, but portrayed a different character in each, sometimes playing the hero and sometimes the villian. William Castle directed four entries in the series. Each film in the series began with the shadowy figure of "The Whistler," who would whistle a haunting tune and declare "I am the whistler, I know many strange tales." He would then introduce the story. The voice of The Whistler would also close each story, revealing the fate of the protagonist.
The radio series, which began in 1942, was developed by J. Donald Wilson, who also wrote the first entry of the film series. That series also featured the haunting theme music written by Wilbur Hatch and the framing device of The Whistler. In the radio series, Bill Forman, Marvin Miller, Joseph Kearns and Everett Clark spoke the words of The Whistler, who was never a participant in the drama, but rather a narrator and commentator. Except for Otto Forrest, the actor who portrayed The Whistler in the films was not identified by contemporary sources. From 1954 to 1955 Joel Malone produced an anthology series called The Whistler for the CBS television network. In that series, Bill Forman spoke the lines of The Whistler. For additional information on the series, please consult the Series Index.