As my experience and knowledge of (classic) film noir grows, so does my excitement at finding new, lesser-known gems from Hollywood and beyond. For the “O Canada Blogathon,” hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, I had the pleasure of introducing myself to Whispering City (1947). Now please allow me to introduce — or reintroduce — this very Canadian noir to you.
Devious lawyer and patron of the arts Albert Frédéric (Paul Lukas) frames pianist Michel Lacoste (Helmut Dantine) for the murder of his (Michel’s) neurotic wife in order to blackmail him into keeping determined reporter Mary Roberts (Mary Anderson) from exposing the fact that Albert himself committed a murder long ago.
Although the framing device of a tourist sleigh driver introducing us to the characters in the opening is clumsy and unnecessary, and though the plot is a bit too full of coincidences to be entirely convincing, I thoroughly enjoyed Whispering City. Anderson has delightful charisma, and the character is progressive: the only female criminal reporter on her paper. Moreover, while the final reveal is not entirely a surprise, we do get to delight in payback.
The film’s director is Fyodor Otsep, a Russian director of the silent era. He went to Germany to direct a 1931 film, but after Hitler’s rise he moved to France, where he directed several other films. After being internet at the outbreak of war, he fled through Canada to the U.S.. Failing to achieve success as a Hollywood émigré director, he returned to Canada. Whispering City was his final film.
Whispering City takes place in Quebec City, and we get to hear both English and French dialogue and accents. In keeping with this multilingual context, the film was shot simultaneously in English and in French, with two different casts. The French version is titled La Forteresse. (I look forward to seeing it sometime, though I’ll need subtitles.)
The film also features attention to Quebec life and sights, including the beautiful Montmorency Falls.
Beyond the sights, Whispering City offers gorgeous sounds as well. Character Michel’s great love is piano, and during the central conflicts of the film (his wife’s death, blackmail) he is composing and practicing what will be his greatest work, the “Quebec Concerto.” The lovely Romantic piece, of which we hear a selection in the film, was actually written by Québécois composer André Mathieu in 1943.
Take a listen:
In conclusion, I couldn’t have chosen a better film for immersing myself in the meeting of Canada and noir. And because Whispering City is in the public domain, you can easily enjoy it, too.