Alan Ladd's first starring western and first film in technicolor is Whispering Smith. I have a funny feeling that someone at Paramount figured out that in boots with a couple of inches of heels on them, Mr. Ladd could get some additional height unnoticed. He certainly did do a lot of westerns after Whispering Smith. According to the films of Alan Ladd and the biography by Beverly Linet, Ladd had purchased a ranch for his family and enjoyed his time out there and became an expert rider. For someone who arrived late to the western genre, Alan Ladd does sit the saddle well and looks right at home on the range. The story based on a novel by Frank Spearman had been filmed two times previously as a silent film. Ladd is a railroad detective and we first meet him going after Murvyn Vye and his two outlaw brothers. Ladd's best friend is Robert Preston and his wife Brenda Marshall almost married Ladd back in the day. Preston is a happy go lucky sort, but a lout none the less. The green eyed monster gets him though as Ladd is hanging around. Preston falls for the line that chief villain Donald Crisp gives him. Especially after he gets fired from the railroad after tangling with new superintendent John Eldredge. With his knowledge about the railroad, Preston becomes invaluable to Crisp. Whispering Smith is directed by Leslie Fenton, former actor who was gradually getting into A films, but he retired after directing only a few more films after this one. The character he creates for Ladd is a harbinger of the one that George Stevens did for Ladd in Shane. I have no doubt that Stevens cast Ladd in Shane after viewing Whispering Smith. And Whispering Smith probably would be considered a classic western if someone like George Stevens or John Ford or Anthony Mann had directed it. It's that good. Donald Crisp is a garrulous, but crafty outlaw leader. William Demarest is fine in the sidekick role. But the portrayal among the supporting cast to watch is Frank Faylen's as the albino killer in Crisp's gang. I also think that George Stevens was influenced in his direction of Jack Palance in Shane from Faylen's portrayal. Faylen has even less dialog than Palance did in Shane, but he will absolutely chill you when you watch the film. Whispering Smith is an absolute must for western fans and fans of Alan Ladd. It's a turning point film in his career and I'm glad it is finally out on DVD. Only wish a VHS version had been made of it.
Legendary railroad detective Whispering Smith becomes convinced that old friend and colleague Murray Sinclair has joined a criminal band to loot the railroad.
November 27, 2020