Title: Red Skelton Whistling Collection
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
While Warner Brothers has been releasing a flood of classic films through their Warner Archive line, only a select few have appeared as an actual collection. The majority of their classic releases, of late, have been silent films, and talkies possessing the unmistakable creak typical of the plots churned out by Hollywood in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This time, however, Warner has rummaged through their vaults and unearthed a trilogy of Red Skelton comedies from wartime America: Whistling in the Dark (1941), Whistling in Dixie (1942), and Whistling in Brooklyn (1943). All three films are connected, in that Skelton plays Wally “The Fox” Benton, a radio personality and amateur detective who writes murder mysteries for the airwaves.
These films, while following a thrilling storyline like the Chester Morris series Boston Blackie, and the Richard Dix mystery series The Whistler (which began as a radio series in 1942, a year after the first Whistling film with Skelton), depend heavily on the comedic abilities of their main star, as opposed to leaning on plot alone.
Red Skelton was a comedian who broke into two mediums simultaneously: radio and film. He was a frequent guest on The Rudy Vallee Show in 1937, which led to a regular appearance on NBC’s Avalon Time in 1939. In between, he made his film debut in 1938 with RKO, as a camp counselor in Having Wonderful Time. Soon after, MGM hired Skelton to lend his comedy to their Dr. Kildare series (a popular franchise headlined by Lew Ayres), which he did, in 1941’s Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day. But fate intervened and Skelton signed a long-term contract with MGM, receiving a series of his own: the Whistling films.
Because Skelton had been a radio star, he insisted that his contract include a clause which allowed him to work in radio, and in the new medium of television. Studio boss Louis B. Mayer, not realizing the impact that television would later have on film, agreed to the terms but later regretted it when television rose in popularity.
The first of the three Whistling movies, Whistling in the Dark, finds Wally Benton in a heap of trouble when he is kidnapped by Joseph Jones (Conrad Veidt), a cult leader who threatens to kill Wally’s girlfriend Carol (Ann Rutherford), unless he helps to prepare a murder setup. The second film in the series, Whistling in Dixie, sends Wally and Carol to Georgia, where they plan to marry. In the meantime, they try to help an old classmate of Carol’s named Ellamae Downs (Diana Lewis) solve a mystery involving buried treasure, and of course, a murder victim. The third and final film, Whistling in Brooklyn, again sends Wally and Carol on a trip where they plan to marry – this time to Niagara Falls. But before they can get there, Wally is mistaken for “Constant Reader”, a man who continues to taunt police with specific details about various murders. This naturally leads the police to assume that Wally is the actual murderer, and hilarity ensues as he is chased through warehouses and mansions like a common criminal. The Brooklyn Dodgers make an appearance as well.
Warner Archive released the three Whistling films in the Red Skelton Whistling Collection. Though they could easily be included, especially in a collection, there are no bonus features present. The films themselves look good, quality-wise; and for Skelton fans, this is a good way to own a few of his well-known comedies.
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