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Whispering City/La Fortress

(Crime City)

Year: 1947
Language: English and French
Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 91 min
Director: Fédor Ozep
Executive Producer: Paul L'Anglais
Writer: Rian James, Leonard Lee, George Zuckerman, Michael Lennox
Cinematographer: Guy Roe, Charles Quick
Editor: Leonard Anderson, Richard Jarvis, Douglas Bagier, Jean Boisvert
Music: Morris Davis, André Mathieu
Cast: Helmut Dantine, Mary Anderson, Paul Lukas, Paul Dupuis, Nicole Germain, Jacques Auger, Armande Lebrun, Mimi D’Estée
Production Company: Québec Productions Corporation

Told in flashback, the film opens with a coachman telling a young couple the story of Albert Frédéric (Lukas/Auger) – a lawyer, patron of the arts and member of an important Quebec family – who is obsessed with his own respectability. Mary Roberts (Anderson/Germain), a young American journalist working in Quebec City, is sent to cover the death of Renée Brancourt (D’Estée/Lebrun) and comes across a mystery concerning the demise of Renée’s former lover. The trail seems to lead to Albert, who is now very involved in promoting the artistic success of his protégé, the talented young composer Michel Lacoste (Dantine/Dupuis).

Michel, who is having difficulties with his neurotic wife, arrives drunk at Albert’s house one night and cannot remember where he has been. When his wife is found dead and he is a suspect, Michel is persuaded by Albert to hide from the police and to kill the suspicious Roberts. Michel meets Mary under an assumed name, but his attempts to kill her are foiled by his growing feelings for her. Mary takes Michel into her confidence, and eventually Albert is arrested just as he is trying to kill Mary.

Arguably the forerunner of many “Hollywood North” productions of the seventies, this average noir thriller – produced by Paul L’Anglais’s Québec Productions at a cost of $750,000 – used a routine script written for the Hollywood market but with the setting transposed to Quebec City. All three principal performers in the English version were based in Hollywood, as were the camera crew and many of the technicians.

Though its distribution through the J. Arthur Rank organization facilitated a wider release than those enjoyed by previous or contemporaneous Canadian features, the English version enjoyed only modest success at the box office (La Forteresse did much better in Quebec) and the critical reception everywhere was lukewarm at best. The English version was released in the United States in 1952 under the title Crime City. Following the film’s failure, L’Anglais turned to indigenous production, more modestly budgeted and in French only, and enjoyed considerable popular success with such films as Un homme et son péché.

By: Peter Morris