I am the Whistler. I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.—The Whistler
Step with us into the shadows of B-movie history, where shabbily budgeted productions are shrouded in eerie atmosphere and fate completes its ironic work in a scant sixty minutes. Yes, this is the world of The Whistler. Inspired by a radio program that had been haunting American living rooms since 1942, Columbia's screen version of The Whistler borrowed the radio show's unsettling signature melody and mysterious narrator, and added another compelling element: actor Richard Dix, who starred in seven episodes of what became an eight-film series. The square-jawed, big-framed, tired-eyed Dix plays a different character in each installment, but whether wealthy industrialist, sleazy flatfoot, deranged amnesiac, or down-and-out hustler, he always ends up desperate, facing some outrageous predicament posed by a capricious destiny. And what of the Whistler himself? He is perceived only as a trench-coated shadow and a disembodied voice, delivering ominous pronouncements like some creepy, malapropism-prone oracle, or taunting the characters from outside the frame like a sarcastic superego.
This summer, PFA showcases new and restored prints of all seven of the Dix-starring Whistler films, including four directed by William Castle before he made his ballyhoo breakthrough with works like The Tingler and 13 Ghosts. With two double features and a triple-economical storytelling at an economical ticket price-the series offers a rare chance to witness every detail of these strange tales, none of which have been released on DVD. What secrets lurk in the darkness of the theater?Only the Whistler knows.