6 September 2002 | telegonus
Good Old Red
This early Red Skelton comedy is one of several in which he portrayed an actor who was a radio detective called the Fox who also got mixed up in real mysteries, is quite agreeable, at times very funny, and handsomely filmed. The supporting cast, including pretty Ann Rutherford, and the not so pretty George Bancroft and Guy Kibbee, is good and doesn't play in the usual fright film spoof manner. This one isn't really all that inferior to the kind of film Bob Hope, Danny Kaye or for that matter Abbott and Costello were making at around the same time, but Skelton's appeal hasn't worn the years well. Like most comedians he tended to play "innocent" characters, but in his case there was a country bumpkin aspect. Skelton is decidedly not a city guy even when he's playing one. He looks out of place walking down a busy New York street in a double-breasted suit and fedora. There's a child-like quality to him, with none of the knowingness of a Harpo or a Lou Costello, that makes him at times embarrassing to watch. He belongs to another time, when people woke up to roosters rather than alarm clocks, and the first thing they did after breakfast was milk the cow, not jog around the block five times. Modern day hipness has eradicated the country boy sensibility, or removed it from the mainstream; and to a large degree hipness has become almost dictatorial, and can be measured by the extent to which naivite of any sort has been obliterated in our culture. Skelton's films offer a fascinating glimpse of a bygone era, as we can clearly see that behavior that was regarded as quite normal sixty years ago would be considered bizarre by today's standards, and not at all funny.
Anyway, back to Red. One area in which Skelton excels: he believes in the heroic ideal. He may not be the ideal screen hero, but when he swings into action you believe him, or his sincerity anyway; and when he gets the girl you can see him beaming. When Skelton triumphs in these silly comedies it's like virtue triumphing, not because Skelton has so much more virtue than the average person, but because he believes in it. I'd like to see Adam Sandler try that one on for size some time.