Sunday, December 23, 2018

THE AVA GARDNER BLOGATHON: Whistle Stop (1946)


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and her blogathons. Adding something extra special to the holidays Maddy is giving us the opportunity to celebrate Ava Gardner, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1922.


Click HERE to enjoy all of the tributes to the beautiful star.


24-year-old Ava Gardner in a costume from the 1946 independent feature, Whistle Stop.

Ava had been signed by MGM in 1941 and while she was being groomed for stardom with acting lessons, etc., Ava appeared in uncredited bit roles. She was given featured roles in the studio's B series such as 3 Men in White (Dr. Gillespie series) and Maisie Goes to Reno.

Perhaps the studio was unsure of how best to present the beautiful young actress, but in 1946 she worked away from MGM in two films noir of varying quality. Mark Hellinger produced and Robert Siodmak directed The Killers from an Ernest Hemingway story, and it is the film that put Ava on the map as femme fatale Kitty Collins. Prior to that star-making turn, Ava played Mary in Whistle Stop for long time independent producer Seymour Nebenzal (Hitler's Madman) and co-producer and writer Philip Yordan (Broken Lance).

Jane Nigh, Florence Bates, Charles Judels, George Raft
Unidentified, Ava Gardner, Charles Drake

Whistle Stop has the involvement of many tops at their craft including Yordan, cinematographer Russell Metty, composer Dimitri Tiomkin, and actress Florence Bates. However, a muddled story presentation and the mismatched pairing of Gardner and George Raft as romantic leads defeats the movie.

George Raft is the above-the-title lead and while I think he is too old to play the lazy wastrel Kenny, the love of Mary's life, his world-weary look is appropriate when Kenny realizes what a mess he has made of things. 

Jorja Curtright, Ava Gardner, George Raft

Mary has come back to her whistle stop of a hometown after living the high life in Chicago. It is unspoken, but apparent that her looks have carried her far and she has done well. Not every girl in this town has a mink. Nonetheless, her love for Kenny has brought her back. When Kenny refuses to change his lazy days of gambling and drinking, even for her, Mary rushes to the arms of shady businessman Lew Lentz played by Tom Conway (The Falcon's Brother). 

Conway has a large portion of the town under his thumb, including bartender Gitlo played by Oscar-winner (The Informer) Victor McLaglen. Gitlo professes to be Kenny's friend but gets his pal involved in a plan to murder Lentz. Jorja Curtright (Heaven Only Knows) is excellent as Fran, a waitress who loves Kenny and isn't willing to give up on her dream. 

Tom Conway, Ava Gardner, George Raft, Victor McLaglen

A freak accident, a botched robbery, and a frame-up complicate matters while Mary and Kenny work out their romantic entanglements. Whistle Stop packs a lot of plot into just under 90-minutes of run time.

Ava doesn't seem to get a lot of support from director Leonide Moguy, but her scenes with the old pro, Florence Bates bring out her best. Ava's scenes with leading man Raft have a sense of care about them. It feels as if he is protecting rather than romancing the young woman. The character of Mary gives us no sign of what Ava will be delivering soon as the smoldering, soulless Kitty in The Killers.

Whistle Stop is a film of middling results for the interesting creatives involved, but Ava's fans should watch it as part of enjoying the step-by-step maturing of an actress and a star who will become a legend.












18 comments:

  1. I saw only parts of this movie, it was on YouTube but the print was attrocious so I didn't watch to the end. I'd love to see the whole thing. Do you know if there's a clean copy available?

    I agree with you on the Raft/Gardner chemistry. Who thought that was a good idea?

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    1. Even on television I've never seen a nice print of this movie. George was twice Ava's age. Perhaps if the script had reflected the casting, the couple may have had a chance, but certainly not as it stands.

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  2. Great review, Paddy. You have piqued my interest about this one. It is one of the few films starring Ava that I have yet to see. Looking forward to catching it sometime. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon.

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    1. The movie is an exercise on what we would keep and what we would have done to improve things. If anyone is a fan of Ava's I think this is something they must see.

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  3. What a contrast in this movie with her other debut in The Killers with Burt Lancaster. Thanks for reviewing it Caftan Woman as "the other film" she made to get her start. Luckily The Killers knocked them dead at MGM.

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    1. Whistle Stop gave the young actress something to cut her teeth on, but The Killers cemented an image and made a star. In Ava's case it is easy to be certain that the right movie would come along, but would the timing have been right? It's fascinating how these things work out.

      Merry Christmas, Christian.

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  4. I've got to see this film. I am fascinated by George Raft because of his acting style. I'm serious! So I have to see this film, even a poor quality version on YouTube. I would've never thought of pairing George with the young Ava, which makes me all the more anxious to see this one. (Maybe I'll fob off turkey-making chores to one of my relatives so I can sneak away and watch this on YouTube...)

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    1. Go ahead. It's not that long a movie. They'll never miss you.

      I'm a fan of George too. Just because I'm not sure of this pairing doesn't mean I'm any less of a fan.

      Have a wonderful Christmas!

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  5. I have a copy of Whistle Stop on a DVD called "Hollywood Bombshells Collection." I have not seen it yet, but I want to. And this in spite of reviews saying that it isn't all that great. Your blog post makes me think I'll agree with you and others who don't have a high opinion of the film, but even a film fan like me cannot expect to love everything I see. I'm sure, though, that I will find something about it to like. Thanks for your post!

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    1. Among the components of Whistle Stop you are sure to find things that impress. I don't think it can be helped with some of the people involved. It is simply that put together, those components didn't add up to movie I imagine they hoped for.

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  6. Golly, the young Ava was a gorgeous woman! (Not that she looked too bad either as she got older...) My recollection of this movie was that the most interesting relationship was between George Raft and Victor McLaglen's characters; Raft seemed to have more chemistry with McLaglen than with his leading lady. As you noted, Ava was probably too young (and maybe still too green as an actress) to establish much of a partnership with Raft. She always seemed so self-contained onscreen, she always seemed to be a little apart from everyone else.

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    1. Ava's exceptional beauty must have set her apart from others and her lack of experience at this phase might have made her shy. What you say is true about Raft and McLaglen. The actions of those characters drive the plot while Ava's Mary remains the prize at the end of the rainbow.

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  7. I just watched Whistle Stop and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't mind the Raft/Gardner pairing – although what her character saw in Raft's character is a bit puzzling – but I LOVED the Raft/McLaglen pairing. A few twists I didn't expect. Thanks for putting me on to it. :)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed watching Whistle Stop. I certainly don't regret watching it and have found that the best parts of the movie remain fondly in my memory.

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  8. A great review and although I like Whistle Stop, I don't think the chemistry between Raft and Gardner is particularly strong. I personally think that it's more a deficiency on Raft's part and, as your point, the director not using Gardner at her best. She still does well with what's on offer and I agree with Silver Screenings that there's not enough character development to build the relationship between the two. Nevertheless, it's worth watching and your write-up is very insightful and was a pleasure to read! Many thanks!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by. Whistle Stop can be an enjoyable experience for its good parts and a frustrating one for where it falls down. Nonetheless, I don't feel people should pass it by because you never know which movie is going to speak to you.

      Happy New Year!

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  9. It was about as close to an “A” picture as Tom Conway got. I always liked him—a solid actor who should have had a better career. But this film belongs to Ava...the camera loves her.

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    1. Indeed. When Ava is not onscreen, she is missed.

      Tom Conway rates high marks around here as well. If we don't have a plethora of A flix to enjoy, we at least have the treasure trove of B movies (and that voice when my son puts 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan on a loop).

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