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The Whistler


The Mark of the Whistler

Strange Tales of the Whistler

Saturday, May 29, 2010
6:30 p.m. The Whistler and The Mark of the Whistler
William Castle (U.S., 1944)

Double Feature!


The Whistler
William Castle (U.S., 1944)

New Print

“Life is so uncertain,” said the insurance salesman to the would-be suicide: a typical existential gag in a film whose only certainty is irony. Richard Dix plays Earl Conrad, whom we first encounter as he hires a contract killer to knock off a man named . . . Earl Conrad. When unexpected good news causes Conrad to reconsider his plans, he finds that the contract can’t be canceled. One bizarre twist begets another in a supremely paranoid plot involving multiple murders and overlapping manhunts, a hit man–as–amateur psychologist whose favored reading is the scholarly tome Studies in Necrophobia, a missing wife who may or may not be a casualty of war—and, of course, the enigma of the Whistler, who casts an otherworldly shadow over the action. Dix’s performance is disarmingly distraught; director William Castle later wrote, “To achieve a mood of desperation, I insisted that Dix give up smoking and go on a diet.”

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Eric Taylor, from a story by J. Donald Wilson. Photographed by James S. Brown. With Richard Dix, J. Carrol Naish, Gloria Stuart, Alan Dinehart. (59 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Sony Pictures)

Followed by:
The Mark of the Whistler
William Castle (U.S., 1944)

New Print

The Dix we meet this time is “a human derelict”—Lee Nugent, a man fallen from a position of wealth and power to a spot on a bench in a public park. “Ironic, isn’t it?” the Whistler mockingly asks as Nugent peruses a newspaper notice of dormant bank accounts: people have all that money and don’t even bother to claim it. Noticing a different Lee Nugent among the listings, our antihero concocts a plan to put some of that abandoned dough to better use. But in taking another man’s identity, he will become heir to an ugly legacy. Adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story and briskly directed by Castle, The Mark of the Whistler is a fable of debt and destiny in which the con man may be the ultimate mark.—Juliet Clark

• Written by George Bricker, based on the story “Dormant Account” by Cornell Woolrich. Photographed by George Meehan. With Richard Dix, Janis Carter, Porter Hall, Paul Guilfoyle. (60 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Sony Pictures)

• (Total running time: 119 mins)