Cast & Crew
C. Henry Gordon
New York bootleggers Jake Dillon and Ricco Lombardo make their fortunes by extorting "protection" money out of legitimate brewers. One day, however, feisty German brewer Otto Barfuss refuses to pay the gangsters and calls in the police. During the ensuing confrontation, Lombardo's younger brother is killed, and Lombardo swears revenge on Barfuss. Anxious to be rid of the upstart Barfuss, Dillon agrees with his partner that the brewer should be murdered, but is apprehensive about using Slim Scanlon, a known hired killer from Detroit, to do the job. Consequently, when stranded mystery writer and sometime crime solver Wallace Porter shows up at the gangster's hideout, Dillon's interest is piqued. At first oblivious to Dillon's criminal disposition, the mild-mannered Wallace, who was eloping with Toby Van Buren when his car broke down, drinks with him and brags about his crime-solving talents. Toby, anxious to start her honeymoon, comes in to prod Wallace along, but soon learns that Dillon intends to keep her and Wallace prisoner. Backed by his gun-toting gang, Dillon forces Wallace and Toby to stay and demands that Wallace devise a foolproof plot to kill Barfuss before the brewer makes a trip to Buffalo. Wallace reluctantly complies and comes up with a plan whereby one of Dillon's mugs will secure a berth next to Barfuss' on his Buffalo-bound train, steal his overnight bag, and place some deadly cynanide of potassium, which can be absorbed by the body without leaving traces, in his toothpaste. After Dillon approves of the plot and assigns gang member Charlie Shaw to the job, Wallace passes Slim a $25,000 check to betray Dillon and help him and Toby to escape. In addition, Wallace has secretly substituted harmless powdered sugar for the poison. Dillon, however, deduces Slim's double cross and uses him to test the effectiveness of the remaining poison, which has been supplied by Herman Lefkowitz, a crooked drug store owner. After Slim dies, Herman reveals to Wallace that, although Charlie forgot to pack the poison Wallace gave him, he arranged for another packet to be delivered at the train station. Their life-saving scheme apparently in ruins, Wallace and Toby comfort each other in one of Dillon's bedrooms. Toby, sure that the end is near, tries to convince the nervous Wallace to make love to her, but he insists on chastity, even in the face of death. Toby then tries to escape, sneaking by dim-witted mug Joe Salvatore, but is caught in the garage and returned to the bedroom. There, Wallace cleverly hooks up a disconnected telephone wire to a back of a radio and establishes communications with an unsuspecting operator. Through the operator, Wallace is able to relay his whereabouts to the police and to alert them about the murder plot. After Dillon discovers the radio trick, he and Wallace fight, and Wallace ends up with Dillon's gun. As Wallace holds Dillon at gunpoint, the police and Toby's disapproving father burst in the room. Impressed by Wallace's bravery, Toby's father blesses their union, while somewhere outside of New York, Barfuss, who was just about to brush his dentures with the killer toothpaste, is saved.
C. Henry Gordon
Ernest Truex and Edward Arnold originally appeared in the stage play.
Although a print of this film was not viewed, the above summary and credits were taken from a cutting continuity included in the copyright records. Both Ernest Truex, who made his sound film debut in this picture, and Edward Arnold appeared in the original Broadway production of Lawrence Gross and Edward Childs Carpenter's play and reprised their stage roles in the movie. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Chuck Reisner "co-directed" the film with Elliott Nugent after Nugent became ill. Film Daily and Hollywood Reporter news items announced Maureen O'Sullivan, May Robson and Muriel Evans as possible stars. A Hollywood Reporter news item announced Walter Percival as a cast member, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
Files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that, prior to production, the Hays Office expressed concern that the scenes dealing with the plotting of "Barfuss'" murder were too graphic and exact. In particular, the Office was concerned about repeated references to the specific poison to be used in the crime and descriptions of its application. In a letter dated December 7, 1932 to M-G-M production head Irving G. Thalberg, Dr. James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, suggested that the poison be mentioned only once in the picture and also cautioned that "scenes between Wally and Toby concerning spending the night" be handled with care. He notes that "the presence of the bed ought not to be emphasized since the censors are becoming increasingly sensitive about this item of furniture." When New York State censors screened the finished film, they demanded that the murder plotting scenes be cut significantly before they would allow the picture to be distributed. W. D. Kelly of M-G-M's New York office complained to Wingate that the local censors were taking the film too seriously-that "they see and hear the picture...without an audience and without reaction of any kind." Kelly added that, after attending a performance of the stage play and hearing the audience's laughter, he was convinced that no harm could come of the murder plotting scenes. Although Kelly's argument persuaded Irwin Esmond, New York State's Director of Censorship, Motion Picture Division, to drop the matter during production, MPAA/PCA records show that the New York censors continued to demand eliminations during the film's release.
In 1941, S. Sylvan Simon directed another M-G-M version of Gross and Carpenter's play, also titled Whistling in the Dark, starring Red Skelton and Ann Rutherford.