Tuesday, January 01, 2019


(Radio Archives)

by Bill Shute

THE WHISTLER radio series ran from 1942-1955 on West Coast CBS. The only recurring character was a mysterious narrator, The Whistler, who would set up the stories, provide transitions between the acted-out sequences, and on occasion directly address the characters with sarcastic put-downs or withering questions about the stupidity of their murderous plans (such as....”ahhhh, you didn’t know that the milkman would notice when Matilda was not waiting at the door for the bottle of cream for her precious cat Delilah, as she did every morning at 5:30 a.m. sharp, did you....when you MURDERED HER!”). There is a grim yet ironic tone to the show, and once you listen to a few of them, they become addictive, like Fritos or Coca-Cola. The show was so successful that it spawned a series of eight similarly-themed B-crime films at Columbia, seven of which starred the great Richard Dix (see pic), and four of those were directed by William Castle, long before his fame as a horror film auteur (we can discuss those Whistler films in a future review--they are all worthwhile, and the under-stated but intense Richard Dix is perfect for them--he plays a different role in each one!).

Hundreds of the Whistler radio shows are available free for online listening, but I recently acquired an attractive six-CD set of 12 straight episodes, running from 11/5/1945 through 2/25/1946, from Radio Archives, sourced directly from mint transcription discs, and it is certainly a treat. Listening to two straight months’ worth gives me a renewed appreciation for the show (I have listened to a few dozen random shows over the years, from many different seasons of the run), and certainly gives a clear taste of the 1945-1946 season. Many of the Signal Oil ads reference the recent end of World War II and the shortages that existed during the War, so you really get the feel that you are hearing these during that cold Post-WWII Winter. With the excellent sound quality on the Radio Archives discs, the shows have a presence and depth that makes them come alive.

The typical show in the series has someone who has committed a murder....or is contemplating a murder....or who has talked a weak-willed friend into committing a murder for him or her....or is thinking of murder as a convenient way to get rid of some problem he or she is facing. The main character is either a sleaze or a miserable coward or a brutal thug or a manipulative operator....or some combination of those. As the show proceeds, after the main characters seem to get what they want from the killing (insurance money, getting rid of spouse they can’t stand, getting rid of a witness to a crime, etc.), the walls start to close in on them....and not through any police work, but through accidents of fate, a fate that is dripping with irony....and after the pause at the climax, when the show returns for a brief closing sequence, the ironic twist ending tends to double-down on the earlier acid-tinged irony of the person’s fate, digging the knife of poetic justice even deeper. It’s as if they’ve taken the best qualities of Edgar Allan Poe stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado,” along with 40’s fatalistic murder films such as “Double Indemnity” and also the clever twist endings from the stories of O. Henry or Guy De Maupassant, and put them into a lean, hard-boiled fast-moving radio drama. Each episode satisfies, because not only is the killer defeated, but the killer is defeated by his or her own stupidity or vanity or blindness AND the lacerating irony of fate. You almost feel like cheering.

If you’ve never heard a Whistler radio show before, try one of them from the November 1945-February 1946 period documented on this set. You can easily find 100+ episodes of the show online. Yes, they had a formula on the show, but it’s a successful formula (they’d have been foolish to tamper with it), and it can really provide an infinite number of dramatic situations. Few radio shows or B-movie series drive home the CRIME DOES NOT PAY message as powerfully as this one does--especially because these murderers often fool the police, or manage to stay under the radar during the crime’s investigation, but cosmic justice finds them and breaks them, and does it in a salt-in-the-wound manner that these creeps truly deserve.

1 comment:

jerry grillo said...

I'm writing a book about Bruce Hampton, formerly of the Hampton Grease Band (and the Late Bronze Age, and Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Fiji Mariners, etc.). I'm particularly interested in finding a story about the Grease Band that Christopher Stigliano, and would really like to find a copy, to potentially refer to as source material for the book. Please feel reach out to me at jerrygrillo1960@gmail.com. Thank you!