Whistle Stop — directed by Léonide Moguy. Drama. A femme fatale returns to the small town she came from and plots gather around her. 85 minutes Black and White 1946.
George Raft was the stupidest person ever to become a movie star. Here he is again with his mausoleum eyes, mask of monotone, and tie-tucked-into-the-belt paunch. His constant implacability made him a star. Here he plays a small town moocher whose girlfriend returns from the big-time and he finds he still can’t live up to her. But who in the world ever could? She is Ava Gardner after all. Ava knew she could not act, and I imagine she was seldom wrong about anything. She wants the big time, and, goodness knows, a girl like that deserves it, indeed can hardly avoid it. Gardner is very well cast. There is often a girl in every generation or so in every small town, who drives men crazy with lust. She can’t help it; she was born that way. I won’t name the one who was mine, but I would offer her my hand to this day. Such was Ava Gardner and such does she play, and not play badly either. Granted you can see her pause to remember her lines, but then so does George Raft. And it is true that they goddess her up with smashing clothes, which she wears like a dream. They alone are worth the ticket of entry. Victor McLaglen plays Raft’s dumb buddy and he has sensational scenes, which I won’t spoil for you by previewing. He had already won an Oscar for The Informer, and looking at him you wonder that he is an actor at all, but he is, let us say, a type of actor. A thing. Wallace Beery’s follow-up. We have Charles Drake and also Carmel Meyers, famous silent film vamp, excellent as the madam. The picture also gives us Florence Bates in a homey mother role, and it’s nice to see her out of the tiaras of society dowagers and in an apron making stew. She’s very good. Tom Conway is the villain with the mustache and that killer look of destruction in his lower eyelid, possessed also by his brother George Sanders; he is Raft’s vile competition for the favors of Gardner. And, well, it’s all a stretch, as you can see, but absolutely watchable. It was a B-film, but her presence in it led immediately to The Killers, which made Gardner a superstar. Before that she had tiny parts or walk-ons from 1942 on. The fact was that once on the screen, here, in a great big part with her hair like that, there was no watching anyone else whatsoever, bad actress or not. It was clear that with Ava Gardner acting was immaterial. Even trivial. And, ah, she is 23! She was just starting. Looking at the woman, you knew right then she was never never going to play mothers. When her career was over 45 years later she said she had never done anything in film to be proud of. Too bad. In that she was wrong. For she was, if ever there was, the very thing we always wanted from someone: The Proud Beauty, her chin lifting just so as she enters a room with an expectation for delight as she crosses it. Someone we can admire from afar; someone who was made for that.