"Whistle and I'll Come to You" (1968) Review and Mild Discussion

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Summary: A bumbling, self-interested academic goes on holiday and, there, ends up summoning out of the dark to haunt him. Perhaps. A shortish (40 min), mostly streamlined adaptation, an excellent piece except perhaps the end.

BLOT: (05 Jul 2012 - 02:57:49 PM)

"Whistle and I'll Come to You" (1968) Review and Mild Discussion

the gist. Adapted from "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come to You, My Lad". Michael Hordern plays Professor Parkin, an aged academic on holiday at a beach-side place, sometime in the off season. Parkin bumbles and mumbles, mostly to himself, and just barely engages with any of the staff or other guests, with the slight exception of a Colonel who seems to take to him, and mostly spends his days alone along the beach and checking out gravestones. After finding a whistle in an old grave, and blowing on said whistle, the professor's dreams turn darker and darker, and then the extra [unused] bed in his room starts showing signs of someone sleeping in it. Can the skeptic have any defenses against such things? What about one further doomed to be separated from his fellow guests?

[Doug's note: I have included some notes as mouse-over text to the images below.]

one paragraph review. At the vast core of this shortish (42min, give or take) adaptation is Michael Hordern's handling of the Parkin character. Parkin constantly mumbles to himself, always engaging in noise—song, repeating snippets of what he just said or he heard someone around him say, for instance—and in general failing to socialize despite his obvious need to keep up a stream of talk. The rest of the cast are largely there to act bewildered by Parkin; only the Colonel, who has a couple of different discussions over the course of the storyline (and in the end is the only one who tries to help Parkin fight off the presence), has anything like a real relationship to Parkin, and even it is faint. With short dialogues excepted, this teleplay is mostly about lonesomeness, about being separated from those right there beside you. It does this well, and it also takes only a few glances and a few mumbles to tell an entire mood [a dream sequence with an ill defined shape and some odd grunt noises especially showcases the more-from-less school of thought]. The shame of the piece is probably how it handles the very end—though see below for one way to take this—when a lonely man in a horrifying situation is reduced to comical effect. Still, an overall Great short Jamesian horror piece, and recommended if you can find it.

plus some paragraphs. In the original story, which you can read here—"Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come to You, My Lad" via Wikisource—Parkin is a cockier, younger man still somewhat separated from his peers, and the play on words of the title, implying that if you need help just let someone know but also having the presence start stalking Parkin by the act of blowing on the whistle, leads to a possible reading of the story as an examination of loneliness. A reading heightened here for this adaptation. Heightened, perhaps, to the point of doing away with the ghost. It makes one think of a Aickmanesque ghost story, one where the ghost might not be there or at least might not be important. The ultimately lonely Parkin may have driven himself slightly mad by hoping for another's presence, might have began to fear and dread what creeps about on his twilight walks, all because he has been made aware of how lonesome he is. In this reading, the ending is less about confronting a presence at last and more about finally letting the guard down. In that light, the mild absurdity of the handling is forgiveable in the larger message.

However, in the chief reading, that there is indeed a ghost or a phantom or a curse, then the ending fails to captivate the audience enough to allow what we see to satisify. By doing away with definite, we are left with only a single dream sequence to inform, and it is a dream sequence the focuses mostly on Parkin himself, as appropriate to such a self-interested man. Our glimpse of the presence is mostly seeing Parkin confront a night terror from his dreams. What's more, the whole horror-aspect was nearly all pushed into the the final fourth of the running time. Prior to that, we had largely been following a mumbling fool on hols.

The guys at A Podcast to the Curious covered this story in a two parter back in January—Part 1, Part 2—and it is an entertaining listen, and as highly (maybe moreso) recommended as the short movie itself.



Written by Doug Bolden

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