Everyone likes a good noir, right? The moral ambiguity, the tough guys and saucy dames, the style. The Whistler, adapted in 1944 from a radio program, is a slight but well told tale of murder for hire, love and desperation. It's fun!
Richard Dix is Earl Conrad, a businessman who is bereft at the death of his wife, washed out to sea after a boating accident. It's been a couple of years since then, and he's lost all of his friends, who suspect that he in fact killed his wife. Tired of living life this way, and apparently squeamish about suicide, he puts out a contract on his own life. He works with an intermediary, so he doesn't know the identity of the killer, but his outlook on life gets much brighter once the deal is made. He's made his choice and is prepared for death.
But soon after he puts out the contract, he gets word that his wife is still alive, and has been a prisoner of the Japanese these last two years. She's set to be transferred home very soon. Now that he has a reason to live again, he tries to cancel the contract. But the intermediary has been killed by the police in an unrelated incident. He's being stalked by a killer, and now he doesn't want to die. What is he to do?
This is a nice little setup, and director William Castle executes the plot well, keeping the action always moving while still taking the time to define the characters, not just of Conrad, but also his faithful secretary Alice (Gloria Stuart), who also happens to be smitten with him, and the Killer (J. Carrol Naish), who is more than just a paint by numbers heavy. The film is barely an hour long, but has a number of twists and turns, plenty to keep the interest engaged. The performances are quite good, in particular Naish as the philosophical and oddly mannered contract killer. This isn't super deep or thoughtful filmmaking, but it certainly is fun. This was the first of a series of Whistler films, and I'll probably be on the lookout for the rest. Recommended.