Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at 7pm
Early Castle

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Haden Guest

When Strangers Marry, William Castle, 1944, 16mm, 67 mins
The Mark of the Whistler, William Castle, 1944, 16mm, 60 mins

These two fascinating first films reveal a lesser-known side of William Castle, the irrepressible showman later made (in)famous by the wildly extravagant publicity campaigns and expanded cinema devices he invented to propel his subversive schlock horror hits The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960) and Homicidal (1961) into the popular imagination of Baby Boom America. When Strangers Marry and Mark of the Whistler are pure distillations of B-noir—low-budget fatalistic stories of unmoored identities and unexpected crimes that use their minimal means to effectively cast a deep spell of urban malaise. With their abrupt plot twists, graphic mise-en-scène and ever-ratcheting tension, the two films point towards the bold reinvention of the cinema of attractions that would fuel Castle’s later efforts. Yet both are also notably restrained and carefully modulated works that blend psychosexual tension and dark innuendo with sweaty proto-Sergio Leone close-ups and occult undercurrents clearly in dialogue with the enigmatic B-film masterworks of Val Lewton.

By the 1940s, the B-film had been clearly established as a vital testing ground where such influential directors as Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey, and Jacques Tourneur, among many others, began their storied international careers. In the case of Castle, his early B-films, paradoxically, defined him as a master of artistic economy with taut, minimal narratives guided less by dialogue, or even action, than by the kind of oneiric imagery so central to film noir—floating signs, pronounced close-ups, uncanny voice-overs. Admired by Manny Farber and Orson Welles, When Strangers Marry immediately announced Castle’s auteur ambitions by directly quoting both Welles and Hitchcock in its extraordinary opening moments. Despite its abbreviated running time, When Strangers Marry sets a drifting pace that allows it to wander beside the young, wide-eyed heroine, played by Kim Hunter, through an evocative vision of 40s Manhattan, including a remarkable and uncommented-upon visit to a Harlem nightclub. The presence of a young Robert Mitchum, already world-weary and ambiguously dangerous, anchors the film in the deep end of 40s noir.

The best of four screen adaptations of The Whistler radio serial directed by Castle and starring former silent star Richard Dix, The Mark of the Whistler, meanwhile, crisply unfolds a story of an opportunistic hobo while evoking a paranoid vision of WWII America, captured in the in-between waiting spaces of the bank, the bus terminal, the hotel lobby. At only one moment in this quiet and wonderfully minor mood film does Castle’s flair for overt spectacle elbow in: a fabulously improbable scene of dancing waiters wielding flaming shish kabobs in a Cossack-themed restaurant.

And now, for a little ballyhoo. Cinephiles, take note! This once-in-a-lifetime pairing of rarely screened films will be presented on the Ides of March courtesy of vintage 16mm prints from the collection of the Harvard Film Archive!

- HG

Haden Guest is Director of the Harvard Film Archive.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($8 suggested donation), available at door, cash and cards accepted.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.