Whispering Smith

For the blues musician, see Moses "Whispering" Smith.
Whispering Smith
Directed by Leslie Fenton
Produced by Sidney Biddell
Written by Frank Butler
Karl Kamb
Based on novel by Frank H. Spearman
Starring Alan Ladd
Robert Preston
Brenda Marshall
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Cinematography Ray Rennahan
Edited by Archie Marshek
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • December 9, 1948 (1948-12-09)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]

Whispering Smith (1948) is a Western film starring Alan Ladd as a railroad detective assigned to stop a gang of train robbers. The supporting cast includes Robert Preston and Brenda Marshall.

The picture is based on a novel by Frank H. Spearman and a previous 1926 film adaptation starring H.B. Warner in the title role, with Lillian Rich, Lilyan Tashman, John Bowers, and Eugene Pallette as supporting cast.

In 1961, Whispering Smith became a 26-episode NBC series of the same name, with Audie Murphy, film star and World War II hero, in the title role.


The bad Barton boys—Blake, Leroy and Gabby—rob a train and shoot a guard. Luke Smith, known as "Whispering" to some for his quiet, sly ways, is a detective for the railroad, sent to investigate.

Murray Sinclair, an old friend of Smith's, is in charge of the railroad's wrecking crew. He's glad to see Smith, who shoots Leroy and Gabby and is saved when a bullet is deflected by a harmonica in his pocket, given him long ago by his sweetheart Marian, who is now Sinclair's wife.

It saddens Smith to find out that Sinclair might be in cahoots with Barney Rebstock, a rancher with a bad reputation. Rebstock has been hiding the remaining Barton brother, Blake, who is tracked down by Smith.

Whitey DuSang is a hired gun for Rebstock, who wants to see Smith dead. When the railroad's boss gives Sinclair an order, Sinclair rebels and is fired. Rebstock hires him to pull off a string of daring train holdups.

Smith forms a posse. Whitey kills a guard and betrays Rebstock, shooting him. Sinclair is wounded. Smith does away with Whitey but gives his old friend Sinclair a last chance. When he rides home, Sinclair finds his wife packing and strikes her, accusing his Marian of leaving him for Smith.

Smith shows up and Sinclair apologises for his actions. He seems sincere, but when Smith's back is turned, Sinclair pulls a hidden gun. Before he can fire, Sinclair falls over and dies. Smith leaves town, his work there done.



Film versions of the novel had been made in 1906 and 1926. Paramount had silent rights to the novel from the 1926 film, made by an associated company, and acquired sound rights. The film was announced in early 1947 as a vehicle for Alan Ladd.[2] It was Ladd's first Western and his first movie in colour.[3][4]

The script made a number of changes to the original novel including changing the double love story to one.[5]

Brenda Marshall was given her first screen role in four years. Filming began on 14 April 1947.[6]

The role of Whispering Smith was partly based on Jake Lefors. The part of Murray Sinclair, Smith's friend who turns to crime, was supposedly inspired by Butch Cassidy.[7]

The filmmakers built a Western town on five acres of the backlot at a cost of $70,000.[8][9] It included 2000 feet of railroad track on which authentic 1870 locomotives owned by Paramount were operated. The trains were converted from their original wood-burning fuel system to oil. The set was later re-used in many later TV shows and films, including Bonanza.[7]


The film was not released until 1949, by which time Paramount had made and released another Ladd film, Beyond Glory.

The film was a popular with audiences. According to Variety it was the 20th most popular film in the US and Canada in 1949.[10]

Possible follow up

Sol Lesser, who had rights to ten Whispering Smith stories, wanted to film some of them with Robert Mitchum.[11] These films were not made. However, Audie Murphy later starred in a Whispering Smith TV series.


  1. Variety 18 February 1948 p7
  2. DRAMA AND FILM: Hedda Hopper LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Jan 1947: A5
  3. DRAMAR AND FILM: Ladd Gains Coveted Role in Color Western Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 07 Feb 1947: 9.
  4. PARAMOUNT TO DO 'WHISPERING SMITH': Studio Will Remake Western Story by Frank H. Spearman, With Alan Ladd in Lead By THOMAS F. BRADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 Feb 1947: 29.
  5. "Whispering Smith in TV & Film | Frank H. Spearman". Frankhspearman.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2016-07-24.
  6. BRENDA MARSHALL SIGNS FOR WESTERN: Returns to Screen, After Four Years, in Paramount Remake of 'Whispering Smith' By THOMAS F. BRADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 05 Apr 1947: 13.
  7. 1 2 "Whispering Smith". Tcm.com. Retrieved 2016-07-24.
  8. Western Railroad Film In Prospect for Screen By Frank Daugherty Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 02 May 1947: 5.
  9. SCREEN AND STAGE: Old Western Town Built in Hollywood Paramount Spends $70,000 to Locate 'Whispering Smith' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 June 1947: C3.
  10. Variety 4 January 1950 p 59
  11. Revue Beckoning Webb; Lesser Planning Series; Rains 'Barricade' Star Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Mar 1949: 23.
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