WHISPERING SMITH (Leslie Fenton, 1948)

Alan Ladd, briefly though memorably appearing as a reporter in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), was not nearly so good in the crime melodramas which followed that developed his stardom. However, he is absolutely wonderful in Whispering Smith, playing the same (mostly) straight-down-the-track railroad detective—writer Frank H. Spearman’s creation—that H. B. Warner and George O’Brien, among others, played earlier. Luke Smith’s longtime friend Murray Sinclair, who becomes a railway thief after being fired by the railroad company for which they both work, remarks that Smith always turns the other cheek. “Not always, Murray,” Smith replies, his gentleness barely concealing a warning of steel. Leslie Fenton’s rudimentary though lovely Western fuses two genres: Western and film noir.
     Murray is married to Marian, who loves Luke as indeed Luke loves her. Stymied by his loyal friendship with Murray, Luke never proposed to Marian, setting the stage for Murray’s proposal, and vacated the town in which they had all lived. (The times did not encourage Marian to undo this sacrifice of his and her happiness by raising her own voice to stake a claim on Luke.) Luke, legendary as “Whispering Smith” for his lonely stealth, is married to his job.
     In their inevitable shoot-out, Smith wins. As Sinclair lies on the floor dying, Smith convincingly tells him: “[I]f there’d been any other way, I would have played it differently. . . . The only cards I had were the ones you dealt me.” The final fadeout of Luke on his horse consigns “Whispering Smith” to permanent loneliness. However much her widowhood might make Marian eager to couple with Luke, his now having killed Murray makes that impossible for him.
     Beautifully scored by Adolph Deutsch; evocative color photography by Ray Rennahan; fine supporting performances by William Demarest and Frank Faylen.

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