Liverpool born director, the late Leslie Fenton (The Man from Dakota, Saigon) peered through the lens for this Alan Ladd lead western which melds railroad western with buddy-film in a way that is thoroughly enjoyable and allows the film, some 66 years after it was released, to remain relevant and interesting. Everybody likes a good “buddy” flick.
Alan Ladd (Shane) plays the lead of Luke “Whispering” Smith, a late-comer to the genre, Ladd did a great job as Smith and looked the part, there are stories that say that Ladd was so taken with the film and the setting that he bought a ranch for him and his family and took up horse riding. Smith, a railway detective, is sent on assignment to discover the mystery of why so many train-wreck’s were occurring and the scenarios that follow lead him to begin a hunt for an old friend, Buddy Sinclair, played brilliantly by Robert Preston (How the West Was Won) whom he suspects is involved in a series of holdups on the railway. Murray, it also is revealed, is also married to Smith’s old flame, Marion, the beautiful Brenda Marshall (The Sea Hawk). Attempting to give his former pal an easy going in the beginning stages of the film, Smith is forced to turn up the heat when things begin to get more serious.
Part detective tale, part buddy film, part romantic-drama, and all on the backdrop of a railway western, Whispering Smith is a bright and enjoyable slice of cinema. It looks great, the performances, especially from Ladd, are good, and the plot is, though simple and perhaps a little-too-obvious, fun to watch. The locations are typical of the genre at this time, and it looks like many of the ranch-areas could easily have been the exact locations from other films, but there are moments of breathtaking visual beauty here, and I was completely charmed by the story and the relationships between the characters involved.
The other cast members offer some extra things to enjoy too, specifically Donald Crisp (How Green was My Valley) as Barney Rebstock, a villain who is quite friendly at the same time. The scenes involving him interacting with others, and the ones with Marshall’s lovely character of Marion, were the ones I enjoyed the most, their two performances stood out to me and remained with me once the film was finished.
It isn’t original, and it isn’t perfect, nor is it a western that will break any boundaries or turn any heads, well, it didn’t back in the fourties, and it won’t now either, but it holds up today and I had a blast with it. It is definitely worth noting, also, that 101 Films, who put this movie out on DVD in the UK as part of their “Great Western Collection” series, the version I watched, have done a great job here. The transfer is crisp and colourful, the sound is clear and, considering it’s age, perfectly fine, and the cover-art, something I always like to look at when buying films, looks wonderful.
Whispering Smith is available, from 101 Films, on DVD, now.