WHISTLING IN THE DARK. MGM, 1933. Ernest Truex, Una Merkel, Edward Arnold, John Miljan, C. Henry Gordon, Johnny Hines, Joseph Cawthorn, Nat Pendleton. Screenwriter/director: Elliott Nugent.


   If you have seen His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell, you might remember the pretentious little pipsqueak poet whose desk Cary Grant tries to steal. That part was played by Ernest Truex, a busy character actor specializing in milquetoast roles, who once actually starred in a film, Whistling in the Dark, a second feature served up in lavish MGM style, with Edward Arnold (who starred with Truex on Broadway in this), Una Merkel and a host of gangster-types.

   The plot has Truex as a mystery writer eloping with heiress Merkel when they blunder into a house full of crooks — who are plotting to murder somebody. Truex is quickly drafted into service as plotter-in–chief, and his efforts to devise a scheme, foil the scheme, and escape with Merkel form the basis of a mostly fast-moving hour or so.

   Truex plays off his typecast meekness to good effect against menacing actors like Nat Pendleton and C. Henry Gordon, Una Merkel is charmingly simple and sexy in her underclothes, and Edward Arnold radiates ruthless geniality with his usual aplomb.

   I just wish they hadn’t tried to open this out by tacking on fifteen minutes of rather lackluster gangster-movie stuff at the start. It slows things down considerably.