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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Mystery > Horror > Radio Drama > Movie Series > Red Skelton Whistling Collection (1941 – 1943/”Dark”, “Dixie”, “Brooklyn”/Warner Archive DVD Set)

Red Skelton Whistling Collection (1941 – 1943/”Dark”, “Dixie”, “Brooklyn”/Warner Archive DVD Set)

 

Picture: 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.

 

 

In the 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.

 

It begins 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!

 

The head 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.

 

Knowing 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.

 

Though I 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.

 

S. Sylvan 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.

 

 

The 1.33 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.

 

 

You can order this DVD set as noted above at this link:

 

http://bit.ly/WAC_RedSkelton

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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