Friday, July 18, 2008

“You just don’t look right, boy…you just don’t look right…”

In another six hours, TCM will celebrate the 95th birthday of one of the most famous comedic clowns to appear on radio and television, Richard “Red” Bernard Skelton (who sadly left us in 1997). As a Skelton fan, I’ve written a number of posts/essays on the blog over the years, and I had planned to watch as many of the Skelton films as possible I may miss one or two because I’m scheduled to keep an eye on sister Kat’s daschunds while she’s out of the town the next two days attending a taping of Antiques Roadshow.

I’ve stated many times in the past that I enjoyed Skelton the most on radio, where his “gallery of grotesques” seems to play better than it did on his later television series. Although Skelton achieved success in films as well, I must reluctantly admit that I simply didn’t care for many of them: I think A Southern Yankee (1948) is his all-time best (which, unfortunately, is not on TCM’s schedule), with The Yellow Cab Man (1950) and The Fuller Brush Man (1948) second and third…following by the “Whistling” series (Whistling in the Dark [1941], Whistling in Dixie [1942] and Whistling in Brooklyn [1943]). My main complaint with Red’s film work is that most of it was done at M-G-M, where making musicals was just like riding a bike…but cranking out comedy vehicles was an entirely different ball of wax.

TCM’s run a few Skelton pictures already this month; I saw I Dood It (1943) a couple of Thursdays back and while I can sit for hours and watch Eleanor Powell tap-dance, her thespic talents always were a bit limited. (I hope The Baby isn’t reading this.) Just between you, me and the lamppost, I liked I Dood It better when it was Spite Marriage (1929). (The only thing that really made me laugh in Dood It was when Red was discussing music with Tommy Dorsey and declaring his preference for Dorsey’s brother Jimmy—Tommy responds with: “Yeah, I like Bob Hope, too.”) Skelton not only remade Keaton’s Spite Marriage but also took a crack at The Cameraman (1928) with Watch the Birdie (1950); Keaton, who supplied Skelton with many gags at M-G-M, even attempted to get the studio to let him to take charge of a unit that would make pictures specifically for their star clown but Buster’s previous battles with the bottle scotched that notion. The closest he got was the aforementioned Southern Yankee, which was directed by Keaton pal Edward Sedgwick. (Despite what the IMDb and others have said, I do not consider Yankee to be a remake of The General [1927].)

TCM starts the Skelton festival at 6:15am, and it will include these titles:

6:15 AM Whistling In The Dark (1941)
8:00 AM Whistling In Dixie (1942)
9:15 AM Whistling In Brooklyn (1943)
10:45 AM Maisie Gets Her Man (1942)
12:15 PM Show-Off, The (1946)
1:45 PM Fuller Brush Man, The (1948)
3:30 PM Excuse My Dust (1951)
5:00 PM Clown, The (1953)
6:45 PM Great Diamond Robbery, The (1954)

Of the films listed, I’d like to see Brooklyn (I saw the first two Whistling films last month) and The Fuller Brush Man again…and I’m curious to see Maisie Gets Her Man (1942; I like Ann Sothern—so sue me) and The Show-Off (1946). I’ve seen the silent version (with Louise Brooks…rowr) and I’d like to see the Skelton version because I’m convinced Red would be plumb pluperfect as the obnoxious J. Aubrey Piper. Anyway, I figured as a public service you might want to know about the Skelton “marathon” so if you get the opportunity sit back for some first-rate clowning. And may God bless… (What? Toby’s lawyer is on the phone? Tell him I’m out!)


Stacia said...

I saw all 3 "Whistling" films a few years ago, and "Brooklyn" in my opinion was definitely the weakest of the trio.

Keaton's involvement with Skelton explains why I occasionally see Skelton drag out an old Keaton gag. I thought it was comedic "borrowing" but am glad to know it's not.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

No doubt about it, Brooklyn is the weakest. But that elevator stunt and the "match" routine between Red and Sam Levene makes it worth a look-see.

Toby said...

Ha! Don't worry about any lawyers from me! I'm looking over my shoulder for those from the Skelton estate!

Hoosierwood Hunter said...

I agree about Red not used correctly by MGM. I wonder what you thought about "The Clown". I am trying to build up interest for Red Skelton and celebrate his 100th birthday in his hometown of Vincennes, IN. He will be 100 in 5 years. Please contact me for more info or