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Whispering Smith (1948)

Passed | | Western | 9 December 1948 (USA)
Legendary railroad detective Whispering Smith becomes convinced that old friend and colleague Murray Sinclair has joined a criminal band to loot the railroad.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
George McCloud
Ward Wood ...
Leroy Barton (as Robert Wood)
Conductor (as Eddy C. Waller)
Ashley Cowan ...


Smith as an iron-willed railroad detective. When his friend Murray is fired from the railroad and begins helping Rebstock wreck trains, Smith must go after him. He also seems to have an interest in Murray's wife (and vice versa). Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

railroad | brandy | cigar | See All (3) »


A new Ladd thrills the Old West !




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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

9 December 1948 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Vida Por Um Fio  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The railhead town site was constructed on the Paramount lot adjacent to the neighboring RKO Pictures studio. It became the basis for what would go on to become Paramount's famous western town set as seen in TV's Bonanza (1959) and numerous other TV shows and movies. Prior to 1948, Paramount didn't have a western set on its studio lot. A short line of track was laid down that allowed a working period locomotive to pull into town. See more »


When Luke gets punched in the face and begins to fall, the chair starts to tip to the side. However, it is standing upright in the next shot. See more »


Murray Sinclair: Barney heard you'd been shot up. He asked after ya.
Bill Dansing: Yeah, he seemed mighty disappointed when he heard you wasn't buried yet.
See more »


Followed by Whispering Smith (1961) See more »


Auld Lang Syne
Traditional Scottish folk song
Lyrics written by Robert Burns in 1788
Sung by Demerast, Ladd, and Preston.
See more »

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User Reviews

Whispering Smith A Well-Mounted Western With Trains And Technicolor
4 August 2011 | by See all my reviews

Don't we all love trains? Railroads as a crucial element in the settlement of the West and the general prosperity of 19th century America seldom get their due in the western movie genre. Whispering Smith, a beautifully crafted 1948 Technicolor Allan Ladd vehicle, fills the gap nicely. Almost every character in this handsome horse opera -- or should I say "locomotive opera" -- makes his scratch either by working for the railroad or robbing it. The town saloon is called "The Roundhouse" and features a mural of a train coming. When soft-spoken, straight-shooting railroad detective Smith (Ladd) goes after the bad guys, he and the posse take a train with their horses riding penned flat cars.

Frank H. Spearman's long, complex 1916 novel, which yours truly read as a youngster 50-some years ago, has been distilled down by the Frank Butler/Karl Kamb screenplay to concentrate on a love triangle of Smith, his good friend Murray (Robert Preston), and Murray's wife Marian (Brenda Marshall) who is Smith's lost love. Murray is a heel who doesn't deserve the pretty, gentle Marian. Even worse, when he gets fired from his job as foreman of the railroad wrecking crew, he becomes deeply and inextricably involved with a gang of rustlers, train robbers, and general baddies. Though Smith is very proper and stand-offish with Marian, it's obvious he still loves her. But she poorly hides her love for Smith, fueling Murray's volatile temper and wanton disposition with jealously.

While there is plenty of action, Whispering Smith, like most of the better westerns, concentrates on character development, period color, and cinematography. Ladd, though known as a stone-face, was very expressive with his soulful eyes. He plays the stern, upright, and fearless, but friendly, kind, and loyal Smith to perfection. Preston, always fun to watch, essentially reprises his boisterous, happy-go-lucky good guy gone bad character from the even bigger and better train picture Union Pacific (1939). Brenda Marshall plays her tormented role with sensitivity, never forgetting that she is portraying a Victorian lady. In fact one of the charms of this movie is that little of the time period (1940's) in which it was made creeps in to spoil the late 19th century atmosphere. Thanks to the script and Leslie Fenton's expert direction, supporting and even minor characters show robust personalities. William Demarest as Smith's friend and the wrecking crew straw boss is allowed to play it straight, instead of hamming it up as he so often did, and he comes off very nicely. Donald Crisp, seldom a villain in the sound era, is colorful and dastardly as the smarmy, ruthless leader of the outlaw band. Frank Faylen gives a chilling performance as Crisp's main henchman Whitey, an evil, weird-looking albino. Kudos also to Fay Holden as Demarest's boarding house proprietress wife, who sings a duet on the porch with Ladd in a charming scene of 19th century Americana.

The splendid three-strip Technicolor cinematography is provided by Ray Rennahan, who put on film a number of grander Technicolor oaters, such as the exotic Duel In The Sun (1946) and California (1946) (see my review), as well as another very interesting railroad epic The Denver And Rio Grand (1952) (see my review). He no doubt got much good advice, wanted or not. from the Technicolor Corporation's top adviser Natalie Kalmus. She had a reputation for intruding herself into set decoration and costuming, but she usually knew what she was doing. In Whispering Smith it seems everyone's revolver is a nickle-plated one, and the same can be seen in many of Natalie's Westerns. No doubt she thought the nickeled pistols looked prettier in Technicolor than the blue ones! Sets and decorations in this picture, provided by Sam Comer/Betram Granger, and costumes by Mary Kay Dodson are superb. My wife, who claims to know about such things, says the women's dresses were perfectly accurate to the time period.

Editing was silky smooth as in most 'forties productions. All-important pacing was perfect. The story moved fast, but took plenty of breathers for color, character development, and tension building. Credit Fenton and editor Archie Marshek. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that Adolph Deutsch's score was perhaps slightly too pat and restrained. It was good, but could have been better. Western movies practically demand grand, operatic scores like those of Steiner and Tiompkin. They should be horse operas literally as well as figuratively!

Colorful, authentic, thrilling, and dramatically absorbing, Whispering Smith is a top-notch, adult, "A" western, an under-appreciated classic from Hollywood's Golden Era.

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