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Beautiful Mary returns to her small hometown after many years from Chicago wearing a mink coat and carrying an expensive cigarette case. Her arrival causes long standing enmities to surface between two of her old boyfriends, Kenny Veech, a loafing gambler, and debonair Lew Lentz, owner of a local nightclub. Their deep-seated animosity repeatedly results in antagonism and fights as they compete for Mary's affections. Kenny's friend Gitlo, a bartender in Lentz' club, enlists Kenny in an aborted plan to rob Lentz of $15,000 in profits from sponsoring a local carnival. Lentz retaliates by framing both men for murder. Written by
Gabe Taverney (email@example.com)
A ton of potential squandered by some bad direction and writing
Whistle Stop (1946)
The style is pure film noir but the plot is not. A curious blend at the time of the first noirs at the end of WWII (this one is actually copyright 1945). It has two strong headliners, though some might argue this--George Raft is always a bit less than he wants to be and Ava Gardner is simply young and charming, before her great later roles. It does have a great idea--a beautiful woman has returned to the simple little town where she grew up wanting to see if her true love was still what she thought.
And so Gardner steps off the train at the whistle stop wearing furs, and mentioning her rich lovers left behind in Chicago. She looks at George Raft and thinks he's still a handsome guy, maybe it'll work. But she soon learns Raft is still a loser. And that another guy in town, with lots more money, still has the hots for her. It takes about one scene to switch her game plan.
It's called "Whistle Stop" because it's such a small town on the train line the train doesn't stop unless a signal is put out that a passenger is waiting. Then it blows its whistle and stops. (It also blew its whistle when it had a passenger, Gardner, who wanted to get off, so the whole town, if listening, would say, "Oh, the train's stopping." This becomes important later when Raft gets involved in a way to both make some quick major cash and get even with his rival.
But I should finally say the plot and direction are horribly put together. After awhile the four of us watching were speaking out, after a half hour of really rapt silence, saying, "What?" Or, "Now way." That is, the most improbable flip-flopping of emotions and inconsistent characters keeps adding up until you just can't quite get it. What's worse is it was all really avoidable with some minor thinking. You get the sense that maybe it got re-edited after shooting was done, maybe to create a different flow, or shorten it, or change the ending, and they just didn't have the pieces that needed to make it make sense. Whatever the reason, all these heartfelt, gritty, intense situations fall slightly flat. Just slightly--the movie is sort of watchable--but you have to like this period of movies to see all the great things going on otherwise.
Like the filming--great noir-ish darkness and high contrast, wonderful tight framing, and a few shots in a few scenes that you could study for their simple effectiveness. This is what keeps it going. And the whole scene is great, the little town, the back rooms and odd characters, the family at home. None of it is fully fleshed out, but it's all there to look at at least.
And a last point--the only copy I could find was streaming on Amazon, and it's a terrible print--there must be a hundred little gaps and jumps where both the sound and picture skip a second. Beware of that. Too. But Ava, well, she's got a career ahead of her, and she brings her scenes alive.
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