Smith in a Rush
Luke Whispering Smith (Alan Ladd) is a legend in his own life time as anyone who even dreams of robbing the railroad knows that the no-nonsense detective is likely to track you down and if need be shoot you dead. His friend Murray Sinclair (Robert Preston) knows this but he also knows that his wife Marian (Brenda Marshall) and Smith use to have a thing and with Smith back in town it is clear Marian still has a flame for him. But Smith becomes suspicious of Murray as he seems to have more money than a railroad employee earns and is friends with known outlaw Barney Rebstock (Donald Crisp) which if his hunch is right he is going to have to bring his old friend in to face justice.
Nearly but not quite is the feeling I got right from the get go as I watched "Whispering Smith", the Alan Ladd western from 1948. By that I mean that there is something about "Whispering Smith" which screams western classic but for some reason it constantly falls short and leaves you almost twiddling your thumbs. And the reason being is that despite everything which is right about this old western it constantly feels like it is in a rush to get to the next scene. For example when Murray joins forces with Barney the story then jumps forwards via a hastily put together montage of Murray doing bad deeds rather than working through this phase and developing the change in Murray's personality more gradually.
And it is frustrating because the actual storyline to "Whispering Smith" has a nice scope starting with Smith having a run in with a trio of robbers and then establishing his friendship with Murray whilst Marian is still fond of him and so on till eventually Murray turns to the dark side and things come to a head between the friends with Rebstock pulling strings to play them off against each other. But as I said it almost feels like the movie was made in a rush and so instead of allowing the story to develop it ends up forcing things to move it forwards to fit into 90 minutes.
What is very clear when it comes to "Whispering Smith" is that it shows what a good fit Alan Ladd is when it comes to westerns with a strong romantic edge to the story as Ladd in 1948 had the looks for those lingering camera shots in the same way Robert Redford had them years later. Brenda Marshall also has those looks, those cheeks which really stand out and grab your attention. But it isn't just all about the looks and Robert Preston brings conflict as Murray and in truth delivers a more captivating western performance than Ladd.
What this all boils down to is that "Whispering Smith" is still a good western and entertaining for anyone who has a hankering for some old western entertainment. But sadly what feels like it could have been a classic western ends up an ordinary one because of its constant rush to get to the next scene and development.