Review: Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968)

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Director: Jonathan Miller | 42 minutes | drama, horror, thriller | Actors: Michael Hordern, Ambrose Coghill, George Woodbridge, Nora Gordon, Freda Dowie

This 1968 “Whistle and I’ll Come to You” is a BBC ghost story, often cited as a precursor and major influence on the various “Ghost Story for Christmas” series that the BBC would release in later years.

And indeed elements in this ghost story can already be identified that would return in later films. Here, too, both the environment and the necessary ominous signals are well chosen: a remote coastal town, the deserted beaches and dunes that Professor Parkin roams about, the wind howling past his hotel window, the discussions Parkin has about spiritualism and the skeptical, not to mention arrogant attitude he adopts, the old flute with a warning inscription on it… these are things that lend themselves well to the creation of an appropriate setting for the dark things to come. The more threatening signals to the professor are also well designed: the lonely, motionless figure staring at him from afar, Parkin’s feverish dreams – with a strikingly successful nightmarish quality – in which he is followed by vague and floating figures, the extra bed in his room that suddenly appears to have been slept in, the rattling shutters of his hotel room that seem to indicate that something is about to break in and other faint noises that Parkin hears from lying awake at night … these are signs that make it clear that a malicious something it has anticipated on the professor. Or are they ghosts that have started to play tricks on the so rationally minded professor?

In any case, director Miller knows how to portray a few things with such merit that he manages to achieve a disturbing atmosphere in his story. He does this in the same restrained way that characterizes the more striking parts of the later “Ghost Story for Christmas” and also manages to create an oppressive effect within it. However, again compared to these same later films, this can also be said to be an approach that is too restrained. Besides a slow tempo in most of this film, the signals that occur to Parkin remain limited in frequency. And with the exception of the final scene, it is not so much actual consuming fear as profound anxiety that seizes Parkin. Something that his muttering under his breath is a good indication of, but in combination with his wandering in the environment and the images of the frequently meal-consuming Parkin, it often passes by until it adds little to what has been made clear for a long time.

Some technical drawbacks are also notable. When the professor is lying awake at night, the sound effects work fine to achieve the anxiety that takes hold of him, and do they also have the desired result with Parkin’s fever dreams, at other times things could have been contained. Too loud sound effects for daily events – too loud thumping when Parkin folds his books down on the table and when various characters walk through the corridors of the hotel, the same with the sounds of running tap water … Also in terms of lighting things could have been better here and there The black-and-white images in which this production was filmed also show its datedness, although this also has its advantage in emphasizing the slightly dark and disturbing atmosphere in this ghost story.

Neat game of this and that. Despite the mentioned minuses, Michael Hordern delivers a solid job as the rationally-minded professor Parkin who gradually comes to the realization, if necessary, that there is more between heaven and earth than he can explain. Even in this “Ghost Story” precursor, the close-ups of his various facial expressions effectively emphasize the nervousness and anxiety that slowly take hold of him. This could have been even more striking if the signs that something had taken hold of him had been more frequent and if Hordern’s character had been more overcome by actual fear. There is also not much to be said about the performance of the other cast members, although the time that they come into the picture or the possibilities they get limited by the screen time that Hordern is allocated. It makes this ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’, despite the points for improvement that can be pointed out in it, a qualitatively nice precursor to the later ‘Ghost Story for Christmas’ series, in which indeed various things that stand out and are decisive. also play an atmospheric role here. This film is not the best, but it is an interesting and predominantly deserving ghost story, certainly for fans of the aforementioned series.

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