Smith as an iron-willed railroad detective. When his friend Murray is fired from the railroad and begins helping Rebstock wreck trains, Smith must go after him. He also seems to have an interest in Murray's wife (and vice versa). Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
When Luke gets punched in the face and begins to fall, the chair starts to tip to the side. However, it is standing upright in the next shot. See more »
Whispering Smith A Well-Mounted Western With Trains And Technicolor
Don't we all love trains? Railroads as a crucial element in the settlement of the West and the general prosperity of 19th century America seldom get their due in the western movie genre. Whispering Smith, a beautifully crafted 1948 Technicolor Allan Ladd vehicle, fills the gap nicely. Almost every character in this handsome horse opera -- or should I say "locomotive opera" -- makes his scratch either by working for the railroad or robbing it. The town saloon is called "The Roundhouse" and features a mural of a train coming. When soft-spoken, straight-shooting railroad detective Smith (Ladd) goes after the bad guys, he and the posse take a train with their horses riding penned flat cars.
Frank H. Spearman's long, complex 1916 novel, which yours truly read as a youngster 50-some years ago, has been distilled down by the Frank Butler/Karl Kamb screenplay to concentrate on a love triangle of Smith, his good friend Murray (Robert Preston), and Murray's wife Marian (Brenda Marshall) who is Smith's lost love. Murray is a heel who doesn't deserve the pretty, gentle Marian. Even worse, when he gets fired from his job as foreman of the railroad wrecking crew, he becomes deeply and inextricably involved with a gang of rustlers, train robbers, and general baddies. Though Smith is very proper and stand-offish with Marian, it's obvious he still loves her. But she poorly hides her love for Smith, fueling Murray's volatile temper and wanton disposition with jealously.
Though there is plenty of action, Whispering Smith, like most of my favorite westerns, concentrates on character development, period color, and cinematography. Ladd, though known as a stone-face, was very expressive with his soulful eyes. He plays the stern, upright, and fearless, but friendly, kind, and loyal Smith to perfection. Preston, always fun to watch, essentially reprises his boisterous, happy-go-lucky good guy gone bad character from the even bigger and better train picture Union Pacific (1939). Brenda Marshall plays her tormented role with sensitivity, never forgetting that she is portraying a Victorian lady. In fact one of the charms of this movie is that little of the time period (1940's) in which it was made creeps in to spoil the late 19th century atmosphere. Thanks to the script and Leslie Fenton's expert direction, supporting and even minor characters show robust personalities. William Demarest as Smith's friend and the wrecking crew straw boss is allowed to play it straight, instead of hamming it up as he so often did, and he comes off very nicely. Donald Crisp, seldom a villain in the sound era, is colorful and dastardly as the smarmy, ruthless leader of the outlaw band. Frank Faylen gives a chilling performance as Crisp's main henchman Whitey, an evil, weird-looking albino. Kudos also to Fay Holden as Demarest's boarding house proprietress wife, who sings a duet with Ladd in a charming scene of 19th century Americana.
The splendid three-strip Technicolor cinematography is provided by Ray Rennahan, who put on film a number of grander Technicolor oaters, such as the exotic Duel In The Sun (1946) and California (1946) (see my review), as well as another very interesting railroad epic The Denver And Rio Grand (1952). He no doubt got much good advice, wanted or not. from the Technicolor Corporation's top adviser Natalie Kalmus. She had a reputation for intruding herself into set decoration and costuming, but she usually knew what she was doing. In Whispering Smith everyone's revolver is a nickle-plated one, and I noticed the same in another of Natalie's westerns Copper Canyon (see my review). No doubt she thought the nickeled pistols looked prettier in Technicolor than the blue ones! Sets and decorations in this picture, provided by Sam Comer/Betram Granger, and costumes by Mary Kay Dodson are superb. My wife, who claims to know about such things, says the women's dresses were perfectly accurate to the time period.
Editing was silky smooth as in most 'forties productions. All-important pacing was perfect. The story moved fast, but took plenty of breathers for color, character development, and tension building. Credit Fenton and editor Archie Marshek. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that Adolph Deutsch's score was perhaps too restrained. I prefer the grand, operatic scores like those of Steiner and Tiompkin. Westerns should be horse operas literally as well as figuratively!
Whispering Smith is a top-notch "A" western from Hollywood's Golden Era. Perhaps not a classic, but another under-appreciated gem.
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