Albert Frederic (Paul Lukas) is a well-known Quebec City lawyer and patron to many a local artist.
Years ago, a friend of Albert died in an apparent accident. On her deathbed, the deceased man’s fiancé (Mimi D’Estee) confesses to young reporter Mary Roberts (Mary Anderson) that he was actually murdered.
Naturally, Mary’s interest is piqued and she decides to investigate the case, but in doing so she may put herself in real danger.
Meanwhile, as Mary searches for the truth, the fishy Mr. Frederic becomes entangled in the marital problems of composer Michel Lacoste (Helmut Dantine). A whole lot of deathly trouble ensues.
Whispering City was directed by Fedor Ozep and was filmed on location in Quebec.
This film is in the public domain and available to download for free from the Internet Archive. The print’s pretty fuzzy, but if you’re a regular visitor of TMP, you know the drill by now: I can tolerate a low-quality print, though the lack of preservation breaks my heart (especially when it comes to films like this one, which probably looked quite nice in its day).
I was purposely vague in my plot description above. There’s a lot more to this film than meets the synopsis. [SPOILERS] It’s almost Strangers on a Train-ish, swapping murders for favors rather than murders for murders, one party much more reluctant than the other to take part. Knowing that Mary is on to him, Frederic tries to convince Michel to kill her. Michel’s own wife recently committed suicide, leaving him pegged with her death, which was staged to make him look guilty; Frederic promises to take Michel’s case and prove his innocence, so long as he commits a different murder than the one of which he’s accused.
It’s a twisted tale, with a twisty conclusion. It at one point appears that Michel has followed through with the plan. But then Albert hears Mary’s voice and sees her, in the newsroom and outside of the window of his home. Did she escape Michel by faking her death? Are she and Michel teaming up to take down Albert? Has the story taken a turn for the ghostly? The ending and its lead-up, as the questions of Mary’s fate and evil Albert’s are resolved, are very tense. [END SPOILERS]
Lukas’ character is a fascinating turn from his award-winning, Nazi-battling performance in Watch on the Rhine, for which he earned an Academy Award. His performance here is just as strong but very different, packed with both charm and menace, though not in equal measure. (He’s much more menacing than anything, and he pulls it off well!)
A stellar score, very moody and atmospheric, contributes greatly to the tone of the film — another positive attribute to toss upon the mountain of a gripping story and good performances.
For a forgotten Canadian b-noir, Whispering City is a surprisingly great watch. Recommended for virtually any fan of the crime thriller. The score: 4.5/5