Matt Corbin (Elliott Reid) is a writer for a national magazine, but is taking a break from his busy lifestyle to indulge his pleasures of fishing in New England. However, it all doesn't go to plan when a thunderstorm erupts and in the process of retreating to his car, Corbin slips and bangs his head on a rock. Slightly dazed, he gets into his car and drives around for the nearest town, but ends up at a large set of gates. Asking the guard for admittance so he can recover, he is refused access. There's something funny going on in these parts...
Although exactly what it is isn't clear for at least the first two thirds, and when it all becomes plain it's difficult to believe to say the least. In many ways, The Whip Hand is more notorious for what happened behind the camera than what happened in front of it, thanks to the meddling of producer Howard Hughes. Like many Americans at the time, Hughes was preoccupied with the threat that Communists could be gaining a foothold in the lives of his fellow countrymen, although there must have been a damn few who could admit to ever meeting one.
To this end, he took a perfectly decent science fiction thriller about Nazis infiltrating the United States and had the film reshot extensively so that the villains were Communists. Not only that, but they were ex-Nazi Communists, because we all know how much the Nazis loved the Reds, don't we? It says a lot about Hughes and his cohorts' paranoia that these two groups were interchangeable in their minds, just two looming dangers to the American way of life.
In fact, ex-Nazis were more likely to join the U.S.A. after the war, the ones who weren't tried for war crimes or escaped that is, as their scientists had knowledge which would come in useful for the West in bettering the East. But back at the plot, the film did manage to build up a certain amount of tension with the strangely potent idea that small town America was a hotbed of subversion, and as long as it keeps its cards close to its chest, it's quite a nicely assembled suspense piece sustained by director William Cameron Menzies' shadowy sets and menacing closeups.
With a script by George Bricker and Frank L. Moss, from Roy Hamilton's story, this could have been a standard B movie of the era were it not for the lunacy that takes over in the last half hour. Before that, Corbin scouts around the smalltown which is mysteriously underpopulated and tries to gain access to the nearby sanatarium which is heavily guarded. Originally, he was supposed to catch sight of Adolf Hitler there, which is a far more acceptable twist than the one we are eventually offered, but The Whip Hand is still a memorably nutty addition to Menzies' run of oddball films. It's a forerunner to the alien invasion movies of its decade with baddies born from propaganda rather than outer space, and on that level intriguing in the pulpy honesty about its fears. Music by Paul Sawtell.