on 3 March 2007
Railroad detective Luke "Whispering" Smith (Alan Ladd) rides out of the snow covered mountains into the valley below in search of the train robbing Barton brothers, he is ambushed by two of the brothers, losing his horse he sets out to nearest railroad and hitches a ride on the Nebraska & Pacific train, intending on making an unscheduled stop at Coyote Creek to telegraph the sheriff at Medicine Bend. But the Bartons brothers have beaten them to it and attack the train at the station. In the ensuing gunfight Leroy Barton (Ward Wood) and Gabby Barton (Bob Kortman) are killed, whilst the leader Blake Barton (Murvyn Vye) makes good his escape. Smith then collapses from a bullet wound he received during the shoot-out.
Fellow railroad worker Murray Sinclair (Robert Preston) takes Smith home to his ranch. His wife Marian (Brenda Marshall) having known Smith in earlier times nurses him back to health. As a result of a friendly visit by Bill Dansing (William Demarest) Smith learns that Blake Barton is being holed up in William's Canyon under the protection of no-good gang leader Barney Rebstock (Donald Crisp) and his henchman Whitey Du Sang (Frank Faylen). Smith accosts Rebstock and Whitey in Medicine Bend and has a final shootout with Blake Barton.
Sinclair falls out with newly appointed railroad boss George McCloud (John Eldredge) and throws his lot in with Rebstock, together they organise a series of raids on the railroad. Smith is recalled to Medicine Bend to investigate, he meets Marian on arriving in town then has a face-off in the saloon with Murray and Rebstock. Later following a hold-up at Tower "W" a guard is killed. The gang then high tail it for William's Canyon. Whispering Smith heads a railroad posse to round up the gang and bring them to justice one way or the other.
Directed at a fast pace by Leslie Fenton, based on the story by Frank H. Spearman and scripted by Frank R. Butler and Karl Lamb. Alan Ladd is first-rate in the title role the film has a fine opening sequence leading up to the ambush, parts of which look almost "Shane" like, indeed after "Shane" it's probably Ladd's best Western! The romantic interest is Brenda Marshall (Mrs. William Holden) who plays Marian Sinclair. The film is also the last pairing of Ladd with Preston Foster after having made several films together! Look out for Hank Worden (Mose Harper in "The Searchers") as Murray's ranch-hand.
Filmed sixty years ago at Paramount Studios and on location at Paramount Ranch, Agoura, and Sierra Railroad, Jamestown, California, USA. Beautiful scenery, Top quality color transfer to DVD no spots or scratches to be seen. (Would they were all like this) Highly Recommended.
on 1 July 2014
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"
If you're a railroad thief in the old West and one night you hear a soft voice behind you, it's already too late to draw. Whispering Smith has found you. He's smarter than you, tougher than you, and faster than you.
Luke "Whispering" Smith (Alan Ladd) is a soft-spoken railroad detective. His best friend, Murray Sinclair (Robert Preston) also works for the railroad. Sinclair is a rough-and-ready crew chief who loves the old ways, and that means taking a cut from the goods in train wrecks. He's married to Marian Sinclair (Brenda Marshall), owns a ranch bigger than he should be able to afford, and finally sounds off once too often to railroad management. It doesn't help things when Murray realizes that Smith has long loved Marian. Lurking around is Barney Rebstock (Donald Crisp), a wealthy thief and rustler who now and then arranges for train wrecks. Rebstock's right hand man is a white-haired, squinty-eyed killer named Whitey Du Sang (Frank Faylen).
And it all comes together when Murray, fired by the railroad, outraged over his treatment, resentful of Smith, jealous of his wife, throws in his lot with Rebstock. The number of train wrecks increases, Du Sang kills a railway guard...and Whispering Smith is brought in to end things one way or another. Now the former best friends have to go up against each other.
This is a pretty good western, maybe not A caliber but a strong B-plus. Preston is his usual dynamic, energetic self, yet once again (as in This Gun for Hire) he's overshadowed by Ladd. Alan Ladd, in my view, was an unlikely major star. He had pretty looks and a small stature, and he wasn't a dominating actor. But he also had a great voice, a kind of passive style that hinted at violence, an agreeable screen personality...and something I can't describe that connected seamlessly with a camera. In this movie, as in all his others, he plays the same person, but it works. Whispering Smith is Alan Ladd's movie.
It was good to see Donald Crisp in a bad guy's role. He usually is the kindly granddad or the tough-minded but well meaning father. As Barney Rebstock, he's an avuncular snake. It's always nice to see William Demarest. And Frank Faylen as the cold-blooded killer Du Sang gives a performance that is just inches from being over the top.
All in all, this is an enjoyable action Western with some psychological tensions. It might not be for everyone's collection, but it would be good to have you like older movies, professionally crafted Westerns and Ladd. There's nothing much by way of extras, but the DVD transfer looks good.