“Whiplash” is the kind of routine film Warner Brothers pumped out weekly back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the days before a television was standard in everyone’s home. Not saying this is as a bad thing or that “Whiplash” is a bad movie. It’s like the old saying goes, “They just don’t make’em like this anymore.” Now, no one is going to make the argument this is a great film, but with that said, it does keep you interested despite its flaws, specifically a script that at times stretches the imagination in the believability department.
Dane Clark is a poor California artist named Mike Gordon who gets hooked on a tantalizing mysterious woman named Laurie (Alexis Smith) whom he met after finding out she bought one of his paintings. He convinces her to go out on a date and quicker than you can cook a three minute egg Gordon has fallen in love with the dame. Soon after, Laurie hastily, without a word, heads back to New York City only telling Mike they should not get involved. But Mike is already neck deep in love with her and follows his heart to the east coast.
In New York, Mike discovers Laurie is married to Rex Durante (Zachary Scott), a one-time top boxer heading toward a championship belt prior to a life crippling injury that left him wheelchair bound. Durante is a shady character with unscrupulous friends like Costello (Douglas Kennedy) who will do the dirty work for him. When Mike finds Laurie, she quickly tries to warn him that it’s best he forget about her. But our boy is insistent, and after he is further warned off by a couple of Durante’s thugs, a fight starts with Mike quickly knocking out one of Durante’s boys who just happens to be a boxer. Realizing he might have a champ on his hands, Durante, now a boxing promoter, offers Mike the opportunity to train and become the champ his injuries denied him. Mike accepts, despite the warnings from Laurie. They even change the artist/boxer’s name from Mike Gordon to Mike Angelo, a play on words salute to the Italian master of the Sistine Chapel.
Laurie is obviously unhappy married to Durante, but she stays with him, bowing to his every demand. What’s tying her to this slug? Well, we soon find out, but meanwhile Mike learns to box, after getting the crap beat out of him the first time in the training ring. He learned quickly and heads right to the top and toward the championship Durante always wanted for himself but was denied. The climatic ending is well done with the wheel chair bound Durante getting his just due.
Despite the boxing, the romance between Mike and Laurie is what’s up front, but crime fans don’t despair, there is plenty of noirish atmosphere which grows as the film progresses thanks to cinematographer J. Peverell Marley. This is a good thing because the direction by Lewis Seiler, who is arguably best known for “Guadalcanal Diary,” “Dust Be My Destiny” and “Crime School,” is rather pedestrian and straight forward lacking any flare with the camera.
Dane Clark, who had some training as a fighter early in his life, was along with Cagney, Bogart, Raft and Garfield, a staple in the Warner Brothers list of “tough guys.” Unlike the others, Clark never got the one role to define his career however, that takes nothing away from his talent. His female co-star was the gorgeous and leggy Alexis Smith. At 5’9’’ she towered over some of her male co-stars. If you pay attention, you will note there are some scenes in this film where it’s obvious the lovely Alexis is taller than Clark. Smith alos gets to show off not only her acting and her figure, but her singing talent. Something she did in far too few films.
The supporting cast adds to the film’s color led by the ruthless Zachary Scott and the aforementioned character actor, Douglas Kennedy, who sports a nasty looking scar below his left eye. There is also a nice comic turn by Eve Arden as a neighbor of Mike’s in New York and has eyes for the artist, but soon realizes he only has eyes for Laurie. Jeffrey Lynn, Alan Hale, and the always enjoyable, S.Z. Sakall round out the cast.
The screenplay was written by Harriet Frank Jr., best known for her work with her co-writer and husband, Irving Ravetch. Together they corroborated with director Martin Ritt on eight films including “The Long Hot Summer,” “Hud,” “Hombre,” “Conrack” and “Norma Rae.” “Whiplash” was one of Frank Jr. earliest efforts.