The Whistler and The Mark of the Whistler

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.”

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

 

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