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Three cheers for Whispering Smith,
This review is from: Whispering Smith (Great Western Collection) [DVD] (DVD)
OK, I am going to come right out and say it. I actually prefer this more muscular film to the (imho) considerably more self-conscious and portentous 'Shane'. The ever un-demonstrative Ladd has more of chance to breath here in an excellent, vigorous action story which involves him playing the eponymous railroad detective dogged with a secretly broken heart. Even with the constraints of the genre at this time and date the lead actor manages to find some depths and seriousness in a role which could easily have become a cliché. After foiling the predations of the notorious Barton gang, a wounded Whispering Smith finds himself back on home territory and being cared for by his one true love Marian (Brenda Sinclair) - who has meanwhile married his closest friend Murray (a splendidly tousle-haired Preston Foster). Murray meanwhile has problems on his own account after making some wrong choices when losing his job on the railroad, and grows increasingly closer to the crooked rancher Rebstock (Donald Crisp), eventually turning outlaw himself. Crisp, normally type-cast as the model of rectitude, here grabs the chance to appear menacing with both hands.
What distinguished 'Whispering Smith' above all is the vital quality of the action sequences, particularly the opening railway robbery, which have a violent, modern air about them. Ladd is excellent as the introspective Legend of the Line, ably supported by a cast with no weaknesses. Only the requisite no-surprise hidden love subplot seems more of its time, although even this remains free of an obligatory happy ending and the expected clinch never materialises. Standout too are the accompanying cast: an excellent psychopathic sidekick 'Whitey' - Frank Faylan, an actor I was unfamiliar with - as well as the redoubtable William Demarest. Did he ever put in a bad supporting act? Interestingly the plot of 'Whispering Smith' features a number of train rides, virtually all of which are interrupted: sabotaged or hi-jacked. One can argue that this echoes the life of Smith himself, which has become a interrupted journey itself - a way of distraction, it is implied, from his romantic disappointments, as he's wedded to his dangerous job - a passage in life which never reaches any final, emotionally fulfilling destination. Director Fenton made 'The Streets of Laredo' with Holden immediately after this which, on this experience, I shall now seek out.
The colour film appears these days on disc in an excellent print - it certainly looked good on a blu-ray player though a HD projector at 80"