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On This Day in History, March 23: The Dodgers Go Hollywood

After a few minor comic relief roles for MGM, two of which were as the orderly Vernon Briggs in  the Dr. Kildare film series in 1941, Red Skelton finally hit it big when MGM starred him as a radio sleuth in Whistling in the Dark.

In the 1941 film he played an addlepated sleuth, “The Fox,” who introduced his airwave series with “Ah-woooo, I’m the Fox.” The film was so popular, MGM followed it up with two sequels, the first being Whistling in Dixie in 1942.

The third film was Whistling in Brooklyn. It premiered at Loew’s Metropolitan Theatre in Downtown Brooklyn on March 23, 1944. Besides Skelton as “The Fox,” the cast included Ann Rutherford as his sidekick and bride-to-be, ‘Rags’ Ragland as Red’s chauffeur and Jean Rogers as a girl reporter with the fictitious Brooklyn Daily Chronicle, very determined to get a “scoop.” Last but not least the film featured the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the story, Red is suspected of being a cop killer called “The Constant Reader.” Not only are the police after him, but the mob who pulled off the murder are using every ploy to help the cops catch Red and get them off the hook. The first mention of Brooklyn of any note was in a scene in which the mob boss (and murderer) calls the cops and tells them The Constant Reader is on the roof of the Ebbets Field grandstand. A dumb member of the mob asks, “What is he doing up there?” The sarcastic reply was, “He’s getting ready to jump. The Dodgers blew the game today.”

When the mob tricks Red into going to Ebbets Field and tips the cops off so that they can bag him there, Red disguises himself as one of the Bearded Beavers team who are playing the Dodgers in an exhibition game. Red is hilarious as a Beavers pitcher who manages to bean every Dodger up to bat. An argument ensues with Leo Durocher, irate about Red’s bopping his players with the ball. Red’s retort is, “You call your players Dodgers? Shucks, they can’t even duck.”

The Dodgers play double roles: themselves and the opposing team as well. In one scene Red is told to “take first base” and he asks “Where do you want me to take it?”

The real murderer is exposed by Red in the end. The audience knew who it was all the time. Movie fans of 1944 found such comedy films a welcome escape from wartime worries.

March 23, 2012 - 11:34am


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