Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Whispering Smith (1948)

Alan Ladd stars as WHISPERING SMITH, a steely railroad detective working to solve a series of train derailments and robberies.

Smith's old friend Murray (Robert Preston) is mixed up in the derailments. As an added complication, Murray's wife Marian (Brenda Marshall) is the woman Smith had once hoped to marry himself.

The movie is a nice solid Western, not a classic but a worthwhile, entertaining film. Ladd is compelling as the determined Smith, who tries to turn his friend back onto the right path but is rebuffed. Brenda Marshall frankly has struck me as a bland actress in the couple of films I've seen her in thus far -- I've always regretted Olivia DeHavilland wasn't the leading lady of THE SEA HAWK -- and in this Marshall isn't required to do much more than look tearful for most of the movie. She only made one more film after this before retiring from the screen.

The excellent supporting cast includes Donald Crisp, William Demarest, Fay Holden, and Frank Faylen. Frequent Western character actors such as Will Wright, Ray Teal, Irving Bacon, and Hank Worden also appear in the film.

Cinematographer Ray Rennahan shot the movie in striking Technicolor. There are some particularly beautiful second unit location shots, although the lead actors themselves don't seem to have gone any further than the backlot or maybe Paramount Ranch. The shifts from the outdoors to soundstage are particularly noticeable; in one shot the camera pans past a large tree and as it does we leave the outdoors and are suddenly looking at the soundstage exterior of a ranch house.

There's also a very noticeable blooper: Ladd opens a harmonica box and the box falls to the ground, but in the very next shot the box seems to have jumped right back into his hand.

The movie was directed by Leslie Fenton. It runs 88 minutes.

WHISPERING SMITH is available on DVD. (Update: This film is also now available in a 10-film Westerns collection which is a great value.)

It's also been shown on cable on Turner Classic Movies.

You can watch the trailer here.

2020 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in May 2020 as part of the Western Classics 1 collection.

My June 2020 review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


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