The William Castle Blogathon: Mysterious Intruder (1946)
I have seen every one of the films in The Whistler series.
My introduction to The Whistler was, ironically, a result of the old Jack Benny radio shows, where Benny used to do a parody skit called “The Fiddler.” When I first heard this skit, I didn’t get the joke, but I later discovered that Benny was spoofing The Whistler, with its omnipotent narrator and whispery, creepy voiceover. (“I . . . am the Whistler . . . .)
I never had an opportunity to see any of these movies, though, until a few years back when a friend, Dan Van Neste, wrote a book about the Whistler series and asked me to comment on their relationship to film noir. As a result, I watched every single one – not realizing that half of them were directed by the focus of today’s blogathon – Mr. William Castle!
My favorite Whistler film is Mysterious Intruder (1946), because of all eight films in the series, it exhibits the strongest film noir influence – it’s dark in tone, features a number of shadowy scenes, and has an underlying core of desperation, dread, and hopelessness. In other words, very noiry!
Mysterious Intruder stars Richard Dix as a shady private eye, Don Gale, who is approached by a sweet old music store owner looking for a young lady he hasn’t seen in seven years. Initially reluctant to take the low-paying case, Gale suddenly becomes interested when he’s informed that the missing woman might pay him “tens of thousands” of dollars. But when Gale decides to swindle the old man out of the promised money, he finds himself plunged into a case featuring more twists than a bag of pretzels – it’s got murder, double-crosses, valuable treasure, mistaken identity – and all of that in a cool 62 minutes!
The Noir Influence
Interestingly, Mysterious Intruder features several film noir veterans – Barton MacLane (The Maltese Falcon, Red Light, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye), Regis Toomey (The Big Sleep, I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes, Strange Illusion), and Mike Mazurki (Murder, My Sweet, Dark City, Night and the City). In fact, speaking of Murder, My Sweet, the opening of Mysterious Intruder features a scene that reminds me of this film – a guy goes into a private dick’s office looking for a woman, the room is dimly lit, and their conversation is punctuated by the continuous flashing of a neon sign. (Sound familiar?)
There were several other noirish elements in the film as well. In one scene, Mike Mazurki is lurking in the shadows, his face briefly illuminated by a lit match. Very noir. In another, even more noir-like moment, Dix’s character, Don Gale, goes to see a woman – when he opens the chain-locked door, we seek her in a mirror’s reflection as she speaks to him through a cloud of cigarette smoke. This shot is pure noir.
The film is also peppered with a number of noir-like characters. Don Gale, for instance, is a typical noir anti-hero – an avaricious, ill-mannered user who’s as adept with a gun as he is with a shot glass full of booze. Gale’s hard-core secretary is another classic noir type, as is Rose Denning (Kathleen Howard), who is hired by Gale to look after the missing young woman – Rose looks like a kindly old grandmother, but she’s hard as nails – when Gale tries to pay her with a bill, she matter-of-factly takes the entire wad. And when she sits down with her basket of knitting, she doesn’t start working on a colorful afghan – instead, she withdraws a big bottle of hooch.
And the finale of Mysterious Intruder was tres noir, filled with irony, violence, and just plain dumb luck.
My favorite quotes:
“Are you out of your mind, or just drunk?” – Joan Hill (Nina Vale)
“I disliked Freda, but not enough to kill her.” – Don Gale (Richard Dix)
“And so Gale is charged with the cowardly murder of a woman. The police have a strong motive. They have proof of his opportunity. They have incontrovertible evidence that he was in Freda’s apartment at the time of the murder.” – The Whistler
(You might be wondering why this last one was among my favorite quotes. Come on – it actually contains the word “incontrovertible!”)
What others had to say . . .
For my money, Mysterious Intruder was the best of William Castle’s efforts in the Whistler series. Apparently, I am not alone in this assessment. Here are a few reviews from the day that back me up:
Variety: Direction of William Castle is nicely done. He keeps the action moving at a lively pace and the audience edged forward on their seats.
Film Daily: That the picture rates so well must be credited largely to director William Castle, who more than demonstrates his skill in building up a mood of suspense and sustaining it with little letdown right to the end. Under his guidance a commonplace murder yarn has been transformed into a melodrama which can be recommended with little reservation . . . “
The Hollywood Reporter: William Castle has shown his accomplishments in handling serious melodrama and, in directing the Rudolph Flothow production of Mysterious Intruder, his skill is the deciding factor of a small entertainment that really entertains.”
If you’re a William Castle fan, a Whistler buff, a film noir aficionado – or all three! – you’re going to want to see Mysterious Intruder. Also, for more on Castle and the entire Whistler series, check out The Whistler: Stepping Into the Shadows by Dan Van Neste – it’s good stuff!
Do yourself a favor and click the photo to the right to check out the wealth of great posts being offered as part of this fantastic week-long event!