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Noirvember 2020, Episode 2: Whistle Stop (1946)

My Noirvember journey through some of the lower-budgeted, lesser-known noirs continues today with an impressive cast, an outstanding cinematographer, and a celebrated composer of films scores. That guarantees success, right? Read on, my friends...

Whistle Stop (1946)

Directed by Léonide Moguy

Produced by Seymour Nabenzai

Screenplay by Philip Yordan

Based on the novel Whistle Stop (1941) by Maritta M. Wolff

Cinematography by Russell Metty

Edited by Gregg C. Tallas

Music by Dimitri Tiomkin

Nero Films

Distributed by United Artists

(1:25) Amazon Prime

For all practical purposes, Ava Gardner made only two film noir movies, both in the same year, 1946, which saw the release of Whistle Stop in January, and The Killers in September. At least she went out on top.


Gardner plays Mary, a gorgeous young woman who decides to move from Chicago back to her lousy nothing-ever-happens-here hometown. Why would she return to a place with limited opportunities and no future? Is it for her old boyfriend Kenny (George Raft), who’s still a lazy, unemployed gambler?

Kenny hasn’t done much of anything productive during the two years Mary’s been gone, so she sets her sights on Lew Lentz (Tom Conway), the owner of a local nightclub. The animus between Kenny and Lew grows quickly, and someone sees a way to cash in on it, but it’s not Mary. No, it’s Lew’s bartender Gitlo (Victor McLaglen), who recruits Kenny to help him rob and murder Lew. Does Mary know what’s going on? Will she tip off Lew, or does she have other plans?

Whistle Stop has many of the tools to be a decent film noir, but the script is bloated and unfocused, leaving the viewer to wonder whether this is a revenge story, a love triangle story, a betrayal story, or something else. The script never seems to get its act together, and with Philip Yordan’s name on the screenwriter credit, you never know if he actually wrote the thing or not. With Whistle Stop, he certainly could have, but Yordan was also taking his first steps in producing here, forming Nero Productions with Seymour Nebenzal and Herbert T. Silverberg for the sole purpose of making Whistle Stop. (Nero Productions’ next film later that year, The Chase, was much better, yet one of the strangest film noir entries of all time.)

Adding to the film’s problems, George Raft looks like he’s asleep for most of the film. (There’s proof in the above photo.) At this point in his career, Raft was no longer associated with Warner Bros., now working freelance. (He famously turned down the lead role in Double Indemnity, to which director Billy Wilder later commented, “We knew then that we’d have a good picture.”)

Here’s a head-scratcher: Whistle Stop was a box office hit in 1946. With talent like Ava Gardner, Tom Conway, Victor McLaglen, cinematographer Russell Metty and a musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin, it’s certainly worth watching, but everyone associated with this film did much better work.

And I’m hoping this will be the weakest entry in my Noirvember 2020 posts.

Next up: A down-on-his luck writer hopes his luck will change. Hey buddy, it’s Noirvember. Forget about good luck this month!

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