Whistling in the Dark (1941) starring Red Skelton, Conrad Veidt, Ann Rutherford, Eve Arden, Rags Ragland
Whistling in the Dark was Red Skelton‘s first starring role, and gave him the opportunity to strut his comedic muscles. The movie begins with the meeting an odd cult, Silver Haven. “We part in radiant contentment,” is their recurring phrase. Silver Haven is quickly revealed as a scheme to bilk gullible people out of their money.
One such gullible follower has just passed away leaving the leader of the cult, played menacingly by Conrad Veidt, a million dollars. However, he won’t actually inherit the money until her sole surviving relative passes away. Not wanting to wait, but also not wanting to be connected to the murder, the cult leader gets a brainstorm. As one of his henchmen is listening on the radio to the weekly murder mystery, “The Fox”. Playing the role of radio detective “The Fox” (aka. Wally Benton), Red Skelton’s gimmick is that he creates and solves each week’s murder mystery by himself.
The Perfect Murder
Soon, the cult leader kidnaps The Fox. In order to force him to create the “perfect murder” that can’t be traced back, kidnaps Wally’s fiancee as well as the daughter of his sponsor. To add a little more tension, the perfect murder has to be ready by morning.
Red Skelton and the girls (Eve Arden and Ann Rutherford) are being held in a veritable haunted mansion. This gives Red room to work his comedy, complete with a hidden passage and various spooky props. This leads to a very funny scene with a swinging scimitar that the audience sees but that Red is blissfully unaware of until the last moment. Eventually, Red plots his “perfect” murder – a poison that looks with tooth powder (yes, people used to put powder on their toothbrushes instead of toothpaste) that will kill the victim and leave no trace. Not only that, Red has a plan to foil the murder – by substituting a packet of powdered sugar for the poison.
The best-laid plans
However, even the best-laid plans go awry, and so it is here. The real poison is replaced, and a gangster that Red was trying to bribe to help them in escaping is murdered. And Rags Ragland, who plays a very funny, not-very-bright gangster, stands guard while the murder is going to be committed. The Fox demonstrates his intelligence by turning an old tube-style radio and a frayed telephone wire into an impromptu telephone. He manages to call both the police and his radio station.
This is not only an important part of the plot, it’s quite funny, as the trio scams Rags into being part of the broadcast. Although the state police are racing to the rescue, the local police aren’t. Since they still remember Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Eventually, Rags realises what’s going on, and a surprisingly good fight scene develops. Even though it has touches of comedy, it’s more menacing than humorous, and I was very pleasantly surprised by it. Eventually, the police arrive, the villains are taken into custody, and all ends well — except for a misplaced kiss.
In all, I truly enjoyed Whistling in the Dark, and rate it 3 clowns out of 5.
Funny movie quotes fromWhistling in the Dark starring Red Skelton
“Buzz” Baker (Eve Arden): Help yourself to some of your father’s product.
Fran Post (Virginia Grey): Not me. That’s what killed mama.
“Noose” Green (Don Costello): He’s smart, boss. I listen to him every night.
Joseph Jones (Conrad Veidt): Doesn’t seem to have done you much good.
“Buzz” Baker (Eve Arden): Well, I feel like a new woman. In fact, I feel like a new man. Bring me a telephone book.
[Buzz and Fran enter a night club]
Waiter: How many?
“Buzz” Baker (Eve Arden): Three.
Waiter: You said three?
“Buzz” Baker (Eve Arden): I hope we’re being followed.
Waiter: One gentleman for two ladies?
“Buzz” Baker (Eve Arden): Oh, it’s all right. I’m just going to watch.
[to an over-sized housekeeper]
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): Aren’t you wrestling somewhere tonight?
[trying to warn Harvey his toothpaste has been poisoned]
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): Do Not … Brush … Your Teeth!
Harvey Upshaw: Don’t worry, I won’t even take them out of my mouth.
Joseph Jones (Conrad Veidt): I leave you now in radiant contentment.
Joseph Jones (Conrad Veidt): We part in radiant contentment.
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): Don’t worry about me – Because that’s what I’m doing.
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): I’ve got cold spines running up and down my chills.
Fran Post (Virginia Grey): What are you? A man or a mouse?
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): I’m a man. But tell me if you see a cat coming.
Carol Lambert (Ann Rutherford): Wally, this is no time to crack wise.
Wally “The Fox” Benton (Red Skelton): If I don’t crack wise I’ll crack up.
Herman: My son’s Herman too. He’s learning the business.
“Fran” Post (Virginia Grey): Following in his father’s fingerprints?
Editorial review of Whistling in the Dark, starring Red Skelton, courtesy of Amazon.com
“The screen needs smooth comics like this one,” The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther wrote about Red Skelton’s starring debut in Whistling in the Dark [Disc 1]. What was true then is true today when Red unleashes live-wire goofiness as the Fox, a radio sleuth kidnapped by crooks wanting him to devise a perfect murder. The result? Perfect chaos!