After seeing Whistle Stop recently, this early Gardner movie made me wonder if Hellinger might have simply felt sorry for the youthful beauty trapped in this movie. Ava plays a small town gal who inexplicably chooses to return to Podunkville in the mid-west after lighting out for the big city. We are never told exactly why she's returned to Molly Veech's (Florence Bates) boarding house, where Flo lives with her train watchman husband and "kids", including 51 year old George Raft, (who looks older than the half century mark).
Bates' character also clings to the notion that Mary (Ava), her star boarder, is a "nice girl" whose expensive wardrobe and no visible means of support are signs of frugality. It doesn't seem to strike anyone in the Veech household as odd that Ava lounges around the house in a satin dressing gown, though George Raft doesn't seem to mind. This is especially so during the scene on the porch when Raft cadges a smoke from Ava. The puzzled and intrigued look on his face as he watches her extract a Chesterfield from some secret pocket inside her form fitting housecoat is one of George Raft's more expressive moments. Soon Ava, who had once been Raft's sweetie, is going upwardly mobile by focusing on nightclub owner Tom Conway. He does look more attractive in contrast to the morose Raft and his best buddy, Gitlo, played by veteran scene-stealer Victor McLaglen, a resentful man with a dark past. Currently a combination bartender-dogsbody for the condescending Conway, Gitlo imbibes his boss's liquor and nurses a grudge against the world.
It's not that the movie is bad, exactly. Just quite illogical, but who watches film noirs for the plots? Instead, the low budget movie conveys the randomness of fate, the existentialist air of ennui that permeates every gesture and the relative stoicism of characters on the right and wrong side of the law. Why does anyone do anything in this movie? I still don't know entirely, though I suspect that living a life that was constantly based on the past or a hoped-for but increasingly unlikely future finally prompts characters to take the self-destructive path as a gesture against their never-ending tense stasis. Raft and McLaglen get involved in a robbery attempt, a murder, and a betrayal, though neither of them really seems to have the energy or much belief in the possibility of their actions changing their enervated lives for the better. On the contrary, they seem to be looking for a way to accelerate the petty pace of their existence toward oblivion via pursuit of sheer stupidity.
|The formidable Florence Bates in a role that might have normally gone to Jane Darwell.|
|Victor McLaglen, Tom Conway and Charles Drake are among the raffish characters in Whistle Stop (1946).|
Russell Metty the usually fine cinematographer, had cheap sets, non-existent production design and little apparent guidance from director Léonide Moguy, who had some trouble establishing any kind of consistent mood in this often awkwardly staged film. Maybe I'm missing the movie's tawdry charm, though I hope that others will please point out what I'm missing.
|Ava Gardner in the mid-1940s. You had a good eye, Mr. Hellinger.|
You can see the movie Whistle Stop (1946) here at the Internet Archive.
*Joria Curtright would eventually end her acting career, choosing a much better career as the wife of writer-producer Sidney Sheldon and the mother of his only child. Their marriage would last 34 years, ending with the death of the former actress in 1985