This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
Click here to return to the index of selected articles.
Stepping Into The Shadows
(A Columbia Film Series)
By Dan Van Neste
BearManor Media, 421 pp., $24.95
Reviewed by Maury Cagle
(From Radio Recall, August 2011)
The first thing that should be noted about this book is that it is not about The Whistler radio program, but rather about the series of eight "B" movies of the 1940's based on the OTR series.
However, one of the opening chapters covers the radio series, which ran from 1942 to 1955, noting the writers, casts and overall subject matter. It's worth noting that The Whistler movies ran concurrently for four years of the radio show's 13 years.
These movies fall squarely in the film noir category, maintaining the sense of foreboding and impending doom that marked the radio Whistler. Even the eerie, 13-note introductory whistle, done live each week on radio by Dorothy Roberts, was carried over into the movies.
The titles in the series were:
The Whistler (1944)
The Mark of the Whistler (1944)
The Power of the Whistler (1945)
Voice of the Whistler (1945)
Mysterious Intruder (1946)
The Secret of the Whistler (1946)
The Thirteenth Hour (1947)
The Return of the Whistler (1948)
Each movie is the subject of a chapter, with production notes, credits, cast, and a fulsome plot summary, as well as a number of photographs. Contemporary reviews of each film are included, along with a section of interesting facts and trivia.
Seven of the eight movies (all except The Return of the Whistler) starred Richard Dix, born Ernest Carleton Brimmer in 1893 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
A talented actor, his career spanned the transition from silent to sound films, nearly 100 in all. He received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Yancy Cravat in the 1931 epic, Cimarron.
One of his acting strengths was his ability to adapt to almost any role. Among his many roles were a gangster who reforms, a Yankee officer spying behind Confederate lines; a boozy riverboat captain fighting a Chinese bandit, and a pilot forced by financial woes to fly dangerous stunts. His on and off screen personality gained him many friends in the movie industry, as he made a habit of helping struggling young actors and craftsmen. Dix died September 21, 1949, of heart problems. Actor Michael Duane played the title role in the last of the Whistler films, The Return of the Whistler. The book features a foreward by Robert Dix, Richard's son.
A large section of the book is called The Whistler Family Album, with 2-3 page bios of 31 men and women who starred alongside Dix. Most are undeservedly forgotten, while a few had long careers. The list includes some striking and talented women, such as Lenore Aubert, Pamela Blake, Leslie Brooks, Janis Carter, Lynn Merrick, and Gloria Stuart (who died last year at age 100). Men who worked in the Whistler films included Jerry Mason, Trevor Bardette, John Calvert, Alan Dinehart, J. Carrol Naish, and Regis Toomey.
Similar sections deal with Whistler creator J. Donald Wilson, who not only conceived the radio character, but wrote the first in the series of movies. Others cover directors, producers, writers, and craftsmen who worked on the series.
While the Whistler movies were conceived as "B" fillers for double features, one critic has said that the films were often better than the lead feature on the bill.
Even though the book has a narrow focus, it is exhaustively researched and well written, and is a good read. Dan Van Neste deserves credit for putting the spotlight on a mostly-forgotten series of movies that perhaps should be classified as "B+." Several titles in the series have appeared recently on Turner Classic Movies.
This book is available from BearManor Media at www.bearmanormedia.com.