Whistling in the Dark (1941)
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon with a screenplay written in part by Albert Mannheimer (producer Simon and screenwriter Mannheimer would later collaborate and receive Oscar nominations for Born Yesterday (1950)) this typical Red Skelton comedy adds elements of mystery to entertain. Skelton plays Wally Benton a radio broadcaster whose program ‘The Fox’ features himself in the title role as a crime solver that creates his own fictional crimes for the program. Some nefarious characters hear the program and decide that ‘The Fox’ is just who they need to invent a perfect crime (a murder) they need which will assist them in obtaining a one million dollar “donation”. Conrad Veidt Ann Rutherford Virginia Grey and Rags Ragland play significant roles; Henry O’Neill and Eve Arden among others also appear.
Joseph Jones (Veidt) runs a secret organization scam that bilks widows who want to “connect” with their deceased husbands out of their estates. His group has dealt with small time donors mostly until one woman leaves them $1000000 with strings attached: her middle-aged nephew Harvey Upshaw (Lloyd Corrigan) is to receive the interest payments. So Jones and associates kidnap Wally to force him to devise a plan to “bump off” the nephew. As leverage the hoods also kidnap two women in his life his fiancée and co-worker Carol Lambert (Rutherford) and his sponsor’s (O’Neill) daughter Fran (Grey) with whom his agent (Arden) has convinced him he must periodically “date” around contract renewal time. So Wally Carol and Fran are held hostage until Wally gives the “perfect crime” plan AND it’s carried out.
Wally knows of a certain powder that can be mixed with an intended victim’s toothpaste that once rinsed and gargled will kill within 5 seconds. When Jones’s maid (?) Hilda overhears one of his gang (Don Costello) conspiring to let Wally and the girls escape they test the powder on him to ensure it works; it does. So one of the gang is sent to poison Harvey Upshaw while the dim-witted heavy (Ragland) and former welterweight boxing champion is left to guard them. Jones and the rest of his group continue with their business of signing up new widows they can scam. Naturally “Ragland” is easy to outsmart. Wally who’s actually quite intelligent despite his looks (and the goofy actor playing him) discovers that a previously severed phone line can be used in conjunction with a radio to call for help. It just so happens that he calls in to his radio station at the very time his regular show airs such that he can broadcast the details of the crime in progress including their kidnapping. Fooled by Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast three years earlier the local police chief thinks Wally’s rantings are just another hoax. But of course all will turn out alright in the end.