Cast & Crew
S. Sylvan Simon
When writer Martin Gordon is shot and killed while roaming the grounds of a deserted Confederate fort in Dixon, Georgia, his sweetheart, Hattie Lee, witnesses the crime and hurries to summon help. Upon returning with her father, Judge George Lee, and her cousin, Ellamae Downs, Hattie discovers that Gordon's body has disappeared. Unknown to her, Gordon had been conducting simultaneous affairs with both Hattie and Ellamae, and later that night, Ellamae mails off a package to her former sorority sister Carol Lambert in New York. In a New York broadcasting studio, meanwhile, Carol is working with her fiancée Wally Benton, a radio sleuth known as "The Fox." Wally, who goes into spasms at the mere mention of murder, asks the producer of his show for a vacation so that he and Carol can get married and go on their honeymoon. When Carol receives Ellamae's package containing a Japanese beetle, though, the signal of a sorority sister in distress, she insists upon leaving for Georgia immediately. In Georgia, the prospective newlyweds discover that they must wait five days for a marriage license. They are met at the airport by the judge and his chauffeur, Chester Conway, who has a twin brother with a criminal bent named Lester. When Wally sees a picture of Lester, whom he helped send to jail, accompanied by a newspaper story detailing his escape from prison, he mistakes Chester for Lester and tries to arrest him, but is apprised of his error by the judge. That night, Ellamae takes Wally and Carol to the fort and there they discover a partially dug grave and Gordon's briefcase containing his notes for a history of the fort. Soon after, Corporal Lucken, the old confederate soldier who acts as the fort's caretaker, appears with his parrot, who whistles the tune of "Dixie." When Wally points out a circled passage in Gordon's notes concerning a Colonel Longfellow and the 96th infantry, the corporal replies there must be a mistake because there were only 67 regiments in the militia. Lester, meanwhile, has arrived in Dixon on the local freight train and proceeds to the judge's house, where he dons Chester's uniform. At the house, Lester spies Wally, whom he holds responsible for his arrest, and vows revenge. Later that night, Wally hears the drunken judge reciting a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sonnet and realizes that Gordon must have been writing in code and that his notes refer to the poem. When Wally scrutinizes the poem, "The Arsenal at Springfield," he deciphers that it must be referring to something hidden in the floor of the fort and notifies Sheriff Claude Stagg of his discovery. The sheriff hurries to the house and meets Wally, Ellamae and Carol in the driveway. Chester, watching from a window, notices the sheriff drop a gold coin from his pocket, and after the sheriff drives off with Ellamae, Carol and Wally, Chester picks up the coin and examines it. At the fort, Wally uncovers a partially buried chest filled with English gold coins and concludes that Gordon must have been searching for the trunk when he was killed. As the sheriff pulls his gun on Wally and demands the treasure, Chester arrives at the fort and disarms the sheriff. He then explains that he became suspicious of the sheriff after seeing him drop the coin because he had earlier found a cache of coins in Gordon's desk drawer. Soon after, district attorney Frank V. Bailie appears and Wally, unaware that Bailie is the sheriff's partner in crime, turns the gun over to him. Double-crossing his accomplice, Bailie locks the sheriff in with the others in an airless powder cell, leaving them to suffocate. Once locked inside, the sheriff informs his fellow prisoners that Gordon is still alive and being held captive at Bailie's farm. Locating a water pipe leading to the outside, Wally finds the corporal's parrot nested inside and attempts to attach an SOS note to the bird. When that fails, Wally decides to teach the bird to whistle "Yankee Doodle Dandy," hoping that the tune will alert the corporal that something is amiss. After the bird flies off, Wally devises a smoke bomb from the sheriff's bullet cartridges. The bomb fails to have the desired effect, however, and instead blows up the pipe, sending water gushing into the cell. Awakened by the sound of the explosion, the judge and Hattie speed to the fort with Lester, who they think is Chester. As Wally and the others find themselves up to their necks in water, the judge arrives and alerts the corporal, who then struggles with the combination to the door. When the door finally swings open, a wall of water propels Wally and the others out of the cell. In the chaos, Lester knocks Chester unconscious and speeds to Bailie's farm while Wally puts the corporal in charge of the sheriff. Upon arriving at the farm, Wally overpowers Bailie after a fight. When Lester appears in the hayloft looking for the gold, he slugs the puzzled Wally, who thinks that he is Chester. After the twins become entangled in a rope pulley, Wally is confronted by one and then the other as they slide up and down the rope. Finally realizing that they are twins, Wally knocks them both unconscious and then is accosted by Bailie wielding a water-logged gun. Knowing that the gun is useless, Wally overpowers Bailie just as the police arrive to arrest the malefactors.
S. Sylvan Simon
Hal Le Sueur
William "buckwheat" Thomas
Clyde De Vinna
Edwin B. Willis
Whistling in Dixie
S. Sylvan Simon, directed all three of the Whistling pictures, including Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), and proved to be just what Red Skelton needed. Having come from the circus, vaudeville, and burlesque, Skelton was a seasoned comedy veteran. With eleven films under his belt, he knew the importance of having a director who understood him and the way he worked. He found that in Simon. "To me, Sylvan Simon was the only director I met outside of Frank Borzage that knew anything about comedy. He knew what was funny, and he let you be free and do whatever you wanted to do." Ann Rutherford remembered working on the Whistling series created a unique problem for Simon: He could not control his laughter. At least when Red was at the helm. "Now he would direct a scene...Out of my peripheral vision I would see Sylvan sitting in his canvas chair, tears streaming down his face and a handkerchief wadded in his mouth. Because Red would invariably know what a patsy he had in Sylvan. He would invariably come up with another little bit of business that hadn't been rehearsed before and Sylvan had to be quiet or he'd ruin the take. And thus lose those moments forever. But it was glorious. It was just a wonderful experience. We all had lots of fun."
Skelton enjoyed working with Ann Rutherford, but blamed the studio for ruining her career. "She was a nice lady. The press department sort of killed Ann Rutherford. She was married at the time to David May, the man who had the department store [The May Co.], and during the war when things were very difficult to get, they came out with a story that her house was robbed and they stole 500 pairs of nylon stockings. And believe it or not this killed her. Women couldn't get stockings; she's got 500 pairs of stocking? See...but they wouldn't admit it but basically I think that's what did it."
Whistling in Dixie also featured Guy Kibbee, George Bancroft, Diana Lewis and Rags Ragland, who played twin brothers in the film. Skelton had worked with Ragland before in burlesque. "I was in burlesque with Rags Ragland, and I was with him three weeks in Louisville, Kentucky, the Gehrig Theater there. [...] Rags was a nice man." Ragland would appear in the final Whistling film, Whistling in Brooklyn but his career was cut short when he died of uremic poisoning in 1946; he was just 40 years old.
Ann Rutherford once spoke about the joys of working with Red Skelton, "He is so deliciously off center about a half inch off center. The first movie I made with Red, about the second day, as the day wore on I thought, 'Uh-oh, they're gonna have to call Dr. Feel Good or something.' I thought I was coming down with pneumonia or pleurisy. I had terrible pains in my chest and I went home and I told my mother. I said, 'I think I'm coming down with something. I'm having a hard time breathing.' Well, she arranged for me to see a doctor the next morning and be late to the studio and this doctor said, 'What have you been doing?' And I told him I'd been working with Red Skelton. He said, 'What have you been doing? I mean, have you been trying to blow up the world's supply of balloons? What, have you been stretching yourself?' I said, 'I've just been laughing.' He said, 'You've done it with laughter.' I had pulled muscles in my rib cage on both sides from laughing at Red Skelton...He is a total delight. If he would come into a room and there was a throw rug on the floor he'd say, 'Well, I've got to go down cellar and get something for dinner.' And he'd pick up an end of the throw rug and you could see him descending into no basement at all. His talents were unbelievable. His face was made of rubber and I just loved Red dearly."
The Whistling series were B pictures and not taken seriously by audiences and critics alike. The New York Times was lukewarm about the results of Whistling in Dixie, when it was released on New Years' Eve, 1942, saying, "As the "Fox" of a radio serial murder mystery, Mr. Skelton speaks with a deep, brave voice. But it quickly becomes a frightened falsetto when he finds himself honeymooning in a gloom-shrouded old Southern manse or prowling through the dungeon recesses of an abandoned old Confederate fort occupied by a parrot, a Civil War veteran, secret treasure and a strong premonition of murder. What with rampart passions, political skullduggery and a pair of twins, one a reformed criminal, the other not. Mr. Skelton's capacity for horrified surprise is left pretty limp at the ending. As usual, Mr. Skelton faces his perils with nothing more explosive than a gag and not infrequently they fail to go off as intended. Also his double-takes, lunatic facial contortions and fainting spells do tend to become repetitious after several reels. But with "Rags" Ragland, alumnus of Minsky's [Burlesque] on hand as sparring partner, Whistling in Dixie becomes an intermittently amusing exercise in comic insanity."
Producer: George Haight
Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: Nat Perrin; Wilkie Mahoney (additional dialogue); Lawrence Hazard, Jonathan Latimer (uncredited, contributor to screenplay)
Cinematography: Clyde DeVinna
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Lennie Hayton
Film Editing: Frank Sullivan
Cast: Red Skelton (Wally 'The Fox' Benton), Ann Rutherford (Carol Lambert), George Bancroft (Sheriff Claude Stagg), Guy Kibbee (Judge George Lee), Diana Lewis (Ellamae Downs), Peter Whitney (Frank V. Bailie), 'Rags' Ragland (Chester Conway/Sylvester 'Lester' Conway), Celia Travers (Hattie Lee), Lucien Littlefield (Corporal Lucken), Louis Mason (Deputy Lem), Mark Daniels (Martin Gordon), Pierre Watkin (Doctor), Emmett Vogan (Radio Producer), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Panky).
BW-74m. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Interviews with Red Skelton and Ann Rutherford for The MGM Archival Project
The New York Times film review, Whistling in Dixie, Wherein Red Skelton Has Appointment With Murder, Is the Latest Visitor at Loew's Criterion; At Loew's Criterion , December 31, 1942
The Internet Movie Database
The MGM Stock Company by James Robert Parish and Ronald L. Bowers
The Great Movie Comedians by Leonard Maltin Famous Movie Detectives II by Michael R. Pitts
Whistling in Dixie
The Variety review incorrectly identifies Red Skelton's radio character as "The Wolf." For additional information about the "Whistling" series, please consult the Series Index and for Whistling in Dark.