Sunday, April 12, 2009

Movies: The Films of The Whistler, Part Four

Last year, thanks to Ed Gorman, I got caught up in the strangely compelling films based on the old radio series The Whistler. Eight movies were made, low-budget titles memorable for the aura of doom that hangs over each one. Ed loaned me copies of the seven he had on hand. Read about ’em here. Only one remained, and I vowed to track it down.

I am a man of my word. Even when nobody cares but me.

The Thirteenth Hour (1947) is the seventh film in the series, the last to star Richard Dix, and Dix’s final screen appearance. It’s also the movie that best captures the noir sensibility that informs every Whistler entry, the idea that the universe could kick you with a size twelve at any moment, and that once you start falling you might never stop.

In the opening minutes of The Thirteenth Hour, independent trucker Dix loses his license on the day of his engagement thanks to a bizarrely plausible chain of circumstance involving a hitchhiker, a drunk driver, and the motorcycle cop he bested for his fiancĂ©’s hand. When one of his men takes ill, Dix is forced to haul a load in secret. Naturally, this is the one that gets heisted. It therefore follows that a cop will be killed, it will be the one Dix has a grudge against, and Dix will have to go on the run. Even the supercilious Whistler voiceover seems to be mocking the poor bastard.

It’s a dark movie. Not just emotionally dark but visually, “where the hell did Richard Dix go?” dark. There are some plot hiccups in the second half, but as is often the case in the Whistler series they make sense in light of a twist ending. Dix goes out on a high note, playing a desperate regular Joe. It was good to see him in inaction again, stiff as he could be.

At some point I’ll revisit these movies. Perhaps when I need to be reminded that your path through life is strewn with banana peels, and you never know when you’re going to step on one.