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The Power of the Whistler (1945): “…I know many things, for I walk by night…”

The omnipresent narrator (Otto Forrest) known as The Whistler introduces us to a “strange man” (Richard Dix) identified as “William Everest” as the third film in Columbia’s Whistler series unspools.  Everest, an individual seemingly on a mission, narrowly misses being hit by an automobile and, stumbling back to the curb for safety, hits his head on a lamppost.  He tells concerned passersby that he’s fine…though he seems a little dazed by his experience.

Everest, however, is not fine.  He makes his way into a joint called The Salt Shaker, a restaurant/bar where sisters Jean (Janis Carter) and Francis Lang (Jeff Donnell) are patrons—“Francie” is accompanied by her fiancé, Charlie Kent (Loren Tindall).  Showing off with some playing cards, Jean announces that she’s going to tell the fortune of Everest, who’s standing at the bar.  On two separate occasions, Jean reveals both the ace of spades (aka the death card) and the two of clubs…and nervously announces to sis and future bro-in-law that great harm will come to Everest within the next twenty-four hours.

Jean is compelled to warn Everest what’s in store for him, and she decides to confront him outside the bar despite warnings from Francie and Charlie.  When she catches up to Everest, she explains what she’s done…but he doesn’t seem to show any concern.  The reason for this is that bump on his head has given him amnesia—“noir’s version of the common cold,” as a critic once mused.  Checking the contents of his pockets, Jean agrees to help Everest (whom she’s renamed “George,” since she doesn’t know his real name) try to figure out who he is.  Using items like a lighter, a florist’s receipt, a doctor’s prescription and a railroad schedule, Jean and “George” embark on an odyssey to piece it all together—meeting a cast of characters that include a ballerina (Tala Birell) and book store owner (John Abbott) in the process.  “George”/Everest seems to be an ingratiating chap…but he’s also got a slightly sinister side.  Why else would kittens, canaries and park squirrels suddenly end up dead when he’s around?

Though The Power of the Whistler (1945) takes a slight dip in quality when compared to previous entries The Whistler (1944) and The Mark of the Whistler (1944), it still remains an entertaining little B-mystery…directed by the prolific Lew Landers, whose memorable films include the 1935 Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi teaming The Raven and The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942—also with Karloff, and Peter Lorre).  Star Richard Dix’s performance is an unusual turn for him (and whose intentions will keep viewers guessing throughout the film), and he’s ably assisted by B-movie queen Carter (also in the cast of Mark of the Whistler), Donnell (later George Gobel’s wife on his comedy-variety TV show) and Abbott, not to mention B-programmer faves like Murray Alper, Cy Kendall, Nina Mae McKinney and Stanley Price.

Screenwriter Aubrey Wisberg pads the narrative a tad, but the noir cinematography by L. William O’Connell is appropriately atmospheric considering its low budget…plus the film also wraps things up with a memorably suspenseful barn climax.  OTR fans will certainly want to catch it when Turner Classic Movies airs it this Saturday morning (September 8th) at 10:45am, one of five Whistler movies scheduled for the month.  Next Wednesday at Radio Spirits: Voice of the Whistler (1945)!

One Comment

  1. […] to keep Nina from larger cinematic exposure—I was gobsmacked seeing her play a domestic in The Power of the Whistler, a 1945 film—and so McKinney had to go overseas to work as a stage star in cabarets (she would be […]

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