Watch this one for Victor McLaglen's monologue on how to steal thousands and get away with it
Nov 17, 2011
It takes twenty minutes to reach the reason to watch Whistle Stop, a semi-noir, semi-melodrama starring George Raft as a small-town loser and Ava Gardner as a small town...loser. That's when Victor McLaglen as Gitlo, a big, aging bartender and friend of Kenny Veech (Raft), visits him in the lonely train station at Ashbury, pulls out a deck of cards for two or three hands of Casino, and starts to talk to Kenny.
McLaglen's three-minute monologue is a masterful combination of friendliness, wooing and manipulation. Up to then we've seen Gitlo only as Kenny's buddy. Gitlo works as a bartender in the up-scale (for Ashbury) Flamingo Club, owned by the suave and condescending Lew Lentz (Tom Conway). Both Kenny and Lew want Mary (Ava Gardner), Kenny's old girlfriend who has just returned from two years working in Chicago. She left Kenny once because he was a loser, always gambling but with no money, a tough guy still living at home. "You know Kenny," his adoring Ma says, "he's always on the go. Why, I bet right now he's working on a big deal."
The "big deal" is a crummy poker game in a closed bar. Mary, however, kinda loves the lug; Kenny certainly loves her in a boss-around, alpha dog kind of way. But Lew Lentz, with his hairline moustache and white tux, detests Kenny (the feeling is mutual), and Lew has the class and money that Mary wouldn't mind having.
In those three minutes, talking to Kenny while they play Casino with Kenny distracted because Mary has just gone off with Lew, Gitlo tells what it's like being under Lew's thumb...about a "mistake" he made that the police don't know about but that Lew does...what it would be like having the money Lew has...how it would be possible to take a lot of Lew's money from him...and how to murder Lew and get away with it. McLaglen plays these three minutes almost softly, with a gentle smile. He's showing Kenny how things could be, sharing Kenny's resentment over Lew. He's sly but sincere. The camera seldom leaves McLaglen's face and the director lets McLaglen take his time. McLaglen delivers a marvelous moment. It's unsettling to think that very soon, under John Ford's tutelage, McLaglen will turn himself into an over-acting Irish buffoon in a series of Ford films.
George Raft at 51 is as wooden as ever. Still, he has a serious screen persona that's interesting to observe. When he looks like he wants to beat up someone, he's believable. Ava Gardner at 24, after lots of unbilled bits, is now getting the studio treatment to become one of the last of the studio-built glamour screen queens. She can barely act better than Raft, and their scenes together are something to see.
"I never promised you anything before," Raft as Kenny says, "but I'm making a promise now. Wait. We'll go together." "Go where?" Gardner as Mary asks. "Anywhere," Raft says. "It's a long walk to anywhere," Gardner says. "This time," Raft says, "we'll ride." Still, Gardner is gorgeous and she learned.
With movies this clunky in acting, writing and directing it's all to easy to give in to sarcasm or two-bit wit when writing about them. Victor McLaglen, however, reminds us that surprises happen and that it doesn't hurt to keep an open mind. The movie is in the public domain. The DVD transfer is borderline awful, but bearable. If the price is low enough, it might be worth having to enjoy how good McLaglen is.