Red Skelton Whistling Collection (1941 – 1943/”Dark”,
“Brooklyn”/Warner Archive DVD Set)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: C Films: B-
PLEASE NOTE: This DVD
set is only available through the Warner Archive Collection at the link included
below at the end of the review.
1930s and 1940s, one of the largest trends in B-movie series was
Detective/Mystery films, especially with a central detective. All studios made them and MGM did some of the
best. In a send-up of such series, they
hired the great Red Skelton in his early prime on the rise as an enduring and
influential comic to play Wally “The Fox” Benton. The fictional radio drama actor was a
detective off-mike and would solve actually mysteries from his skills in
writing fictional puzzles. Skelton made
three films as the character, now available on DVD as The Red Skelton Whistling Collection.
with Whistling In The Dark from
1941, from the stage play by Edward Childs Carpenter and Laurence Gross that
had been filmed twice before, including with Ernest Truex in 1933. Benton
is “The Fox”, a clever detective who solves mysteries in a very popular radio
show, but the show might get axed if the network decides to replace it with a
game show. He is set to marry his
co-star (played by series regular Ann Rutherford) but the station owner’s
daughter also thinks he is interested in her.
Just as he is about to deal with that dilemma, he is kidnapped!
of a strange cult (Conrad Veidt of the original Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and The
Man Who Laughs) believes Benton could create the circumstances of a perfect
murder and will hold him hostage until he does so. Skelton is very funny in his role, while
Veidt does a great job (in the tradition of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff) of
sending up his Horror genre persona and it is a solid mystery/comedy film. I can see why they made sequels. Virginia Grey, Paul Stanton and a very young
Eve Arden (later of TV hit Our Miss
Brooks and the hit film Grease) round
out a great cast in the third of at least five versions to date. This also predates the Abbott & Costello
Horror Comedies at Universal by seven years and follow similar Bob
Hope/Paulette Goddard comedies (1939’s The
Cat & The Canary, 1940’s The
Ghost Breakers) by a couple of years.
they had a winner with Skelton, Rutherford and
the characters, MGM next produced Whistling
In Dixie (1942) has the couple going South for a vacation when a female
friend feigns innocence in inviting them for a visit, but is really invited to
solve why a man was shot to death while taking a late night stroll. Southern gags galore fly as they are pulled
more into a wild robbery plot and Skelton and Rutherford just get better
together where chemistry is concerned.
As entertaining as the first entry, it is amazing the effort the makers
went through for the physical comedy, plotting and gags. George Bancroft, Guy Kibbee, Diana Lewis and
a returning “Rags” Ragland (in a dual role here that works) also star.
wish this could have been a much longer series, MGM only made one more Benton film with Whistling In Brooklyn (1943) has our
comic hero framed for being an elusive serial killer as he is tying the
knot. The film is hilarious, its chase
aspects are a hoot, the Brooklyn Dodgers show up when Benton has to pretend to be a member of the
opposing team, future I Love Lucy
star William Frawley plays no less than a police detective and a very funny
film once again results. Jean Rogers
(Dale Arden form the Buster Crabbe/Flash
Gordon films) is a wacky reporter who will stop at nothing to get a scoop,
Ray Collins (Citizen Kane), Sam
Levene (I Dood It, God Told Me To, …And Justice For All) and Henry O’Neill round out the cast.
Simon directed all three films and why this did not continue as a series is
odd, though MGM was the biggest studio and would make cuts into good material
because they were producing so much and had the money to do so. With radio drama sadly long gone, no one has
tired to revive the franchise since the 1950s, but this is a great set to issue
on DVD and Skelton was only getting warmed up in his career, which continued
for decades after. His unique
physicality inspired everything from animators (especially at Warner Bros.) and
other comics to this day. Some of the
lines in these films are as funny as ever and Skelton here could go a few
rounds with any comic actor today.
X 1 black and white image on all three films are clean and from good prints,
but the image can be softer at times than I would have liked, with even footage
in the trailers included sometimes looking a little better. However, you can see how good even MGM’s
B-movies looked as compared to many big budget films today. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is good in all
cases for their age, thanks in part to Turner Entertainment’s early efforts to
preserve the MGM catalog many years ago when they first took it over. Extras include original trailers for the films
on their respective DVDs.
order this DVD set as noted above at this link:
- Nicholas Sheffo