By Barbara Peterson



Whistling in the Dark--

TOPICS

[The Players] [The Plot] [Quotes] [Production History] [My Review] [Notes of Interest] [Videos]

THE PLAYERS

Red Skelton Wally Benton, 'The Fox'
Ann Rutherford Carol Lambert, Radio actress and Wally's fiance.
Virginia Grey Fran Post, daughter of Wally's program sponsor.
Conrad Veidt Joseph Jones, leader of the Silver Haven.
Rags Ragland Sylvester, the chauffer of the Silver Haven.
Paul Stanton Jennings, the Haven's lawyer.
Donald Douglas Gordon Thomas, the Havenite tasked with eliminating Mr. Upshaw.
Don Costello 'Noose' Blue. He can be bribed.
Lloyd Corrigan Harvey Upshaw.
Henry O'Neill Phillip Post, the sponsor of 'The Fox'.
Eve Arden Buzz Baker, Wally's agent.

THE PLOT

Joseph Jones and his Cult of the Silver Haven have bilked many gullible women out of nickel-and-dime donations. When wealthy member Mrs. Upshaw dies, however, Jones expects the cult to receive a sizeable sum. But there's a problem with Mrs. Upshaw's will. The Silver Haven gets the money, but only after the death of Mrs. Upshaw's nephew. Jones' minions advocate the removal of the nephew, but Jones doesn't want a murder. An unexpected death by violence might cause an investigation of the cult. When he hears the Fox's program, he decides that the radio detective will be able to come up with a fool-proof solution to their problem, so no shadow of suspicion will be thrown on the cult. He and his myrmidons leave for the radio studio.

Wally Benton, the Fox, is performing his radio program in front of a live studio audience, which includes Joseph Jones. While he's performing in front of the microphone, along with other actors, and his sound-effects men behind him, Wally's agent Buzz and his sponsor's daughter, Fran, arrive. The option on the Fox's radio program is up the next day - will his sponsor renew? After the performance, Benton hurries to his dressing room and confirms to his fiance, Carol (who'd been acting with him on that night's episode), that he will marry her that night. She goes home to pack for their honeymoon. Buzz and Fran then arrive at the dressing room. Buzz speaks with Wally privately - no other sponsor wants his program, so the only way for him to stay on the air is to go out on a date with Fran. Wally asks Buzz to take Fran to the Pelican Club, saying he'll meet them there in a few minutes.

Next to invade the dressing room are Joseph Jones and his entourage. Jones explains that he is a maker of vitamins, and wants to become the sponsor of The Fox. Wally is elated at this news. Problem is, they have to sign the deal tonight, and Jones 'wife' is waiting at the Regal Hotel for them. Wally gives phone numbers for Carol's apartment and the Pelican Club to Jones' 'secretary' and then goes with Jones in his chauffered car. He soon realizes that these people are not who they've claimed to be, and Jones tells him exactly what is expected of him. Wally refuses to help them, but Jones arranges for both Carol and Fran to be brought to the Silver Haven's huge mansion in order to persuade him otherwise. Wally feigns dislike of the two girls, but Jones is not fooled. He tells the women to persuade Wally to do as he asks, and then he leaves them alone.

The three attempt to escape by finding and navigating a hidden passage but it is a fruitless (and time-consuming) attempt. They end up back where they started from, and with the Silver Haven people waiting for them. Jones is out of patience, he has the two women taken away and emphasizes to Wally that he has until the morning to come up with a plan to kill the nephew, or he and the two girls will suffer. Wally starts trying to think of ways to commit murder.

Wally is cheerfully eating strawberries the next morning when the two women are brought down to join him. He has written out his murder plan like a script, and Jones has sent the minions to acquire the ingredients for the packet of poison, leaving 'Noose' Blue to keep an eye on them. Wally bribes him in order to ensure that he and the girls are able to escape. Then Jones arrives - and is informed of this little plan by Hilda. Wally makes up the packet of poison. Jones tests it out on Mr. Blue, and finds it works in 4 and one half seconds. He sends confederate Thomas to fly to Kansas City. He is to fly back from Kansas City to New York on the same plane as Mr. Upshaw, and in fact has a seat right next to him.

Wally and the two girls are left alone again, with Sylvester outside the door to guard them. Wally reveals that he has switched packets, so Upshaw won't die. The Silver Haven's pharmacist enters, requesting the Fox's autograph, and reveals that Thomas had forgotten his briefcase (with the poison) and so the pharamacist had to get his clerk to run a new package out to Thomas at the airport. He leaves the three people decidely depressed.

Business at the Silver Haven as usual - Jones and his colleague are 'schmoozing' at an elderly, wealthy woman's house, other strong-arm men and Hilda have been given the night off, and only Sylvester is left to guard the Fox and the two women. Carol and Fran want him to beat up Sylvester, but Wally doesn't believe he has the skill to take on a former lightweight boxing champion. Another scene of cowardly wisecracking consumes a bit of time. Once Sylvester returns to his post outside the door, Wally converts the radio in the room into a two way phone. He establishes contact with his radio program, and broadcasts the news of the Silver Haven and the danger to Mr. Upshaw. On the plane, Thomas has switched his poison powder with Mr. Upshaw, but then has to work to ensure that Upshaw does not hear the Fox's broadcast.

Jones is informed that the Fox is broadcasting, and hurries back to Silver Haven, where Sylvester is finally getting suspicious and tries to stop the Fox. This time Wally fights back. The sound of fists pounding and chairs breaking and voices screaming goes out over the airwaves, and the two women join in the brawl as well. They've taken care of Sylvester just as Jones arrives and holds them at gunpoint. Wally manages to distract him via rubber band and paper clip, and disarms him just as the police arrive. Jones allows the police to escort him from the room, saying suavely, "We part in radiant contentment." The Fox makes one last appeal over the radio to warn Upshaw of his danger, then turns to kiss his fiance. Unfortunately she had fainted, and he kisses the stone-faced Hilda (who has also just returned to the house) instead. Hilda faints as well, and the camera fades out on the Fox's face as he realizes what he has just done.

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QUOTES:

Jones: ''How much did she leave us?''
Jannings: ''A million dollars.
Jones: ''Splendid.''
Jannings: '' With reservations.''
Jones: ''Don't be humourous. You are a lawyer, not a comedian.''

Buzz: ''Help yourself to some of your father's product.''
Fran: ''Not me. That's what killed momma.''

Thomas: ''I was just trying to ease your mind, J.J.''
Jones: ''You can ease my mind by not using yours.''

Blue: ''He's smart, boss. I listen to him every night.''
Jones: ''Doesn't seem to have done you much good.''

PRODUCTION HISTORY

Whistling in the Dark (1941), was first made in 1933, starring Ernst Truex as Wallace Porter and Una Merkel as Toby Van Buren. (In other words the names were changed to protect the innocent.) Both movies were based on the play by Laurence Gross and Edward Childs Carpenter. Red Skelton reprised his role as Wally Benton, aka the Fox, in two other movies. Whistling in Dixie (1942), finds him travelling to Georgia with girlfriend Carol. She's worried about an ex-sorority sister who knows the secret of a hidden Civil War treasure. When Wally gets involved, humorous trouble follows. In Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), a cop-killer and the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team figure in the mystery, which finds Skelton a suspect in the crimes.

MY REVIEW

A fun little film. Skelton is a good actor, but each time he delivered a cowardly wise crack or did a double-take I thought of Bob Hope. (Perhaps if I'd seen this movie before Ghost Breakers, I would have thought of Red Skelton every time I saw Bob Hope.)

NOTES OF INTEREST

Veidt's film countdown
This was Conrad Veidt's 104th film.

Echoes of WWII
After Jones decides, in the hearing of his minions, that the Fox and the two women will never leave the house alive, the lawyer Mr. Janning says, ''Well, I prefer not know about it.''
Jones replies, ''But you do know about it, Jannings. We all do. Don't we?'' And there is a closeup of Conrad Veidt's face as he looks around at his compatriots, and his especially sardonic look as he places a cigarette in his mouth as he looks back towards Jannings, which is unfortunately not lingered upon..
I wondered if this was a dig at the Germans, who claimed not to know anything about the Nazi death camps. (Of course this film was made in 1941, while the denials took place after WWII).

Slipped Past the Censors
Wally and Carol rush away from the radio stage after completing the program. Wally's agent Buzz prevents sponsor's daughter Fran from going after him immediately. ''He's probably gone to slip into something cool.'' Scene cuts to Wally kissing Carol deeply and passionately.

Evolution of Air Travel
In 1941, passengers on a plane had to step on a scale to be weighed. They didn't carry on one piece of hand luggage - they were given a manila folder in which they placed the toiletries they'd need for the night, and they stored these folders in a slot next to their seat. The seats faced each other, as in a train compartment. And there were 'berths' so that people could sleep in beds while the plane flied them to their destination!

On the Air
This movie provides a fun view of how a radio program was broadcast in 1941. Actors had to repeat their roles - live - twice, once for the East coast, and three hours later for the West coast. They also performed, standing up, in front of a live audience. Sound effects men behind them watched for their cues, while the actors read from scripts.

Slang
''There's that girl again.'' In other films of the period, ''there's that man again.''

I've Seen That Face Somewhere Before
Both Virgina Grey and Don Costello were later to appear in After The Thin Man. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. Virginia Grey was introduced as the adopted daughter of the character played by C. Aubrey Smith. In the 1940's, a real child couldn't kill his parent. So anytime a character was introduced specifically as someone's adopted child, chances were very good that person would turn out to be the murderer.

Bad Editing, Especially if you're a Veidt fan
Joseph Jones is in the audience of the Fox's live radio broadcast, flanked by his entourage. On stage, the Fox explains that he suspected that the maharajah was not the maharajah because a true maharajah winds his turban from right to left, never from left to right. The camera switches to a closeup of Jones and Jannings, as Jones leans over and comments seriously, ''I never knew that.'' The camera should have stayed on Veidt's profile for a couple of seconds to give the audience time for a laugh, but instead cuts immediately back to Skelton.

Jones has ordered his men to take the traitor, 'Noose' Blue, into another room, and test the Fox's formula out on him. Jones remains in the room and the Fox, Carol and Fran converge on him, begging him to spare Noose's life. Veidt seats himself, crossing one leg over the other, and says, ''I beg you not to distress yourself over Blue's death. It is by no means untimely. By all rights he should have met this fate years ago. Murder and kidnapping top the list of his crimes but there have been many others.'' As he speaks this final line Veidt places one finger over his teeth and arcs both eyebrows, in a humourous fashion. But the camera cuts away from him immediately so one doesn't get the full impact of his expression.

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VIDEOS

OrderWhistling in the Dark from Amazon.com: HERE.

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