The Whistling Trilogy - with Red Skelton 

Whistling in the Dark (1941) – 7/10

Like a lot of people my age, I grew up on Red Skelton on television. He had an enormously popular TV skit comedy show The Red Skelton Hour that ran from 1951 to 1971 in which he created a number of memorable characters. My grandfather who didn't laugh at much of anything would never miss Skelton's show and would laugh uproariously. As so many comedians did in the 1920's through the 40's, he started off in vaudeville as a young teenager and from there moved into radio and finally film. This was his first starring role and he is excellent in it.

The film was based on a play in which Edward Arnold and Claire Trevor starred in and then in 1933 it was brought to the screen and Arnold again played the villain. They made a few script changes and made it a vehicle for the talents of Skelton. The film is by no means hilarious - Skelton had to follow the script - but it is fairly enjoyable in that 1940's comedy way - sort of like a Bob Hope film of the same period.

He plays a radio entertainer called The Fox whose shtick is to solve ingenious murders. His plots are so clever that a scam Cult Leader (Conrad Veidt) kidnaps him to plan a murder that he needs doing. To ensure his co-operation he also kidnaps two women who are infatuated with The Fox. They were played by Ann Rutherford who was usually Andy Hardy's girlfriend and the lovely Virginia Grey. Throw in Eve Arden as well and a bunch of other character actors.

The film was popular enough that MGM made two more sequels.

Whistling in Dixie (1942) – 7.5/10

A year after Whistling in the Dark, MGM came out with this sequel which is actually a better film - better quips, some downright funny slapstick and a better Skelton who looks like he has found the groove for this character. A few anachronistic bits of humor in there such as seeing a beetle, Skelton says "Oh, a Japanese beetle"; "How can you tell?"; "That's easy. The belly is yellow". This was 1942. Another time Skelton freaks out about the cost of a long distance cost all the way to Georgia. He gives a guy a tip saying here is a US Dollar. The guy says, it's only a nickel. "That's after taxes". Somethings don't change.

So Skelton is back as The Fox who has a radio show in which he solves crimes. With him is still his girlfriend from the last film Ann Rutherford as well as a character from the first film who was a comical bad guy with ping pong balls for brains. He is played by Rags Ragland, one of those character actors who filled the screens in the studio days - typecast certainly but you have to love the character. An ex-boxer and performer in burlesque. Here we get two of them - twin brothers and the film has a few great bits around mistaken identities. He died in 1946 at the age of 41 and Sinatra sang at his funeral and Phil Silvers gave the eulogy.

In this one an old friend of The Fox's girlfriend asks for help in solving the case of a dead man who disappears. Down in the Heart of Dixie. Georgia to be precise. Comedy ensues.

Whistling in Brooklyn (1943) – 7/10

This final film in the three film Whistling series is pretty good, but I never did figure out where the whistling comes into play other than a parrot in the Dixie episode. Still this series is not to be confused with The Whistler series of films that were an anthology of crime films introduced by the Whistler. All three films are primarily goofy comedy with a little suspense and crime thrown in. Red Skelton is clearly on his way to stardom with these films though it was TV that suited his talents best.

In this one his character The Fox is thought by the police to be a serial killer and the chase is on with them and the real killers after him, his girlfriend (again Ann Rutherford), his Man Friday (Rags Ragland - also in the previous two films) and a newspaper reporter (Jean Rogers from a couple of the Flash Gordon serials). Lots of quips, hijinks, pratfalls and tumbles follow in an enjoyable manner.

Best for me was probably some of the outdoor location shooting which was in the Prospect Park area of Brooklyn, right up the street from my apartment and in Ebbets Field - though I could not swear it was really Ebbets once on the field. The Brooklyn Dodgers are also there though mainly we get some dialogue with Leo Durocher who was the manager at the time (before his scandal with Lorraine Day after which he was fired). Durocher was known as one of the nastier players in the Majors but he gave my father his autograph which I still have so he is an ok egg in my book. The whole skit on the playing field is very funny. Ebbets Field has a special place in the heart of Dodger's fans before they moved to Los Angeles but it was destroyed in 1960 and the space turned into apartments. Such a shame.

All three films are directed by S. Sylvan Simon who shows a deft hand with broad comedy. I don't know much about him but it seems from his filmography that MGM used him for all sorts of films from drama to comedy to musicals. He died at 49.