Hidden Flick: Finality – William Castle’s The Whistler

The decision-making process is difficult enough without having to factor in death. When one jump-starts fate in a way that is unnatural and lacking any organic flow, chance becomes almost an innocent bystander in this game called life.

Which is all the usual fancy way to preface our look at this edition of cinematic treasure—lost, found, rediscovered, or otherwise. With a shadow-y narrator whose calling card is the act of whistling while discussing the puzzle and characters of a mystery, or, in some cases, an odd but telling twist of fate, one saw what would surely become an almost dry run of the Twilight Zone program, featured on television over a decade later, in William Castle’s 1944 film, The Whistler.

Originally a radio program, which ran from 1942 to 1955, Castle directed the first film spin-off with Richard Dix as the main non-whistling character. Dix, a formidable presence, became a continuing actor in all but one of the Whistler films throughout its eight-series run. The Whistler, himself, is seen in the shadow of scenes, while his haunting whistle often appears as a fatalistic touchstone, serving as the chorus to his slim verses of dialogue, which reflect on the story.

But we are concerned with the first film in the series, which deals with a man who is grieving due to the fact that his wife has apparently died during World War II, and he cannot endure life without her. So, in a rather rash and irrational moment, Dix’s character, Earl Conrad, pays a man to murder him “by Friday” to terminate his torture on this planet. Easy enough, eh?

Well, as anyone who ever read or watched any paranormal or religious books or programs, one doesn’t escape the problems of life when crossing over to the proverbial other side by choosing to terminate early. Not that the lead character, played with melancholic earnestness and honesty by Dix, with an air of confused energy, finds that just getting someone to kill him is so simple. Not at all. That is the thrill of The Whistler—making art out of a tragic premise.

In the end, the tone of the film reflects a moral and reasoned feeling that one can never escape one’s destiny, regardless of our collective sense of free will, or individual planning, or our choices. If one is meant to die, one will inevitably die; if life is preordained, is meant to happen in some miraculous way, then life will—as they say—find a way.

And The Whistler found a way out of the shadows, and out of the hidden treasures of film history’s past to be discovered yet again in our little column that could, and as long as there are little bits of intriguing celluloid still out there, then who am I to be so final about anything?

Indeed, the core of it all.

- Randy Ray

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