Orson Welles was an outspoken admirer of this compact B-noir classic by William Castle (later an assistant director on The Lady From Shanghai), a taut and suspenseful sixty-seven-minute story of a nubile bride arriving in New York City to meet the traveling salesman she recently and very hastily married before his abrupt and, in retrospect, strange departure. In her hotel she finds not her husband but, by uncanny coincidence, an old flame crestfallen to learn of her spontaneous marriage, a forgiving but oddly brooding type played by Robert Mitchum in a pivotal early role that first revealed his talents as an ambiguous hero. Together the bride and ex-lover search for the missing groom, discovering clues along the way that suggest he may be the ruthless “Silk Stocking Murderer.” The film offered an early role for a radiantly young Kim Hunter, who wanders through a haunted city of beckoning signs and sinister figures like a noir Alice in Underworld Land. An arresting scene of the frightened, lonely Hunter, alone in her dingy hotel room while honky-tonk music and pulsing lights beckon, mysteriously unfolds like an animated Edward Hopper canvas.
Not long after the debut of the popular radio mystery series The Whistler, Columbia launched a series of adaptations, seven starring veteran actor Richard Dix as a disoriented everyman caught in a self-destructive spiral and mysteriously accompanied by the sardonic, almost sinister, commentary of the unseen whistling host taking obvious pleasure in the inevitable downfall and punishment of Dix’s sad-sack antiheroes. Co-scripted by the great Cornell Woolrich, The Mark of the Whistler follows Dix as a fallen man reaching for a fallen star, a park-bench derelict who happens upon an improbable scheme to impersonate the owner of an unclaimed bank account advertised in a local paper. The film was the second in the schadenfreude series directed by William Castle, whose trademark stylistic gusto and vaudevillian flair is wonderfully evident in the boldly homoerotic close-up showdowns that give almost comic tension to Dix’s dangerous game, not to mention the over-the-top Cossack-themed nightclub complete with giant flaming shish kebabs and knife-wielding dancers.