Aubrey Filmore (Red Skelton) is a bumbling bellboy in a Missouri town who pesters the Union officers there; he desperately wants to be a spy for the North in the American Civil War. When Filmore accidentally waylays an infamous Confederate spy known as "The Grey Spider" and is mistaken for him by the Rebels, the Union brass see it as an opportunity for real espionage - and though Filmore is a coward as well as a fool, his real motivation for derring-do is a sweet Southern girl named Sallyann, whom he will see again behind Southern lines. Written by
Gary Dickerson <email@example.com>
The scene where Civil War spy Lloyd Gough listens to battle plans from the second floor flu was reused by John Ford in "The Horse Soldiers,' when Constance Towers and Althea Gibson listen to John Wayne and his officers plotting strategy until they're caught by William Holden. Brian Donlevy catches Gough spying in this film. See more »
The identity of the Gray Spider is allegedly only known by Generals Lee, Johnson, and Jackson. Stoewall Jackson had actually died two years earlier in 1863. See more »
Although with Buster Keaton working as gag man on this film and while he did have a lot of influence on this film, A Southern Yankee had other influences besides Keaton's famous general. For myself I caught a bit of Duck Soup in the mix and also the plot premise is the same one as two very serious previous films.
The idea of two spies falling in love with each other was done as serious drama in the British film Dark Journey with Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt. Later on it was used by MGM in their musical The Firefly that starred Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones. But I think someone at MGM must have thought this could be the basis of a comedy, it may have been Buster Keaton who thought it would be a good film idea for Red Skelton.
A Southern Yankee finds Red Skelton as a bellboy in St. Louis who is a northern sympathizer and wants to do something for the Union cause. Given that he's a klutz, Red's dismissed by all the parties involved.
But when he accidentally captures a notorious Confederate agent, the army sees a chance to use him and sends him south with some fake plans for a southern general and a message for one of the Union undercover men.
Red's willing, but the spirit is weak especially around Arlene Dahl who is the daughter of Confederate general Charles Dingle. And he's got some other double agents and triple agents to deal with like Brian Donlevy, John Ireland, and George Coulouris.
It's hard to describe A Southern Yankee from here on because the gags come fast and furious. Red's two trips to the dentist was one long sustained gag and very good. Of course the gag remembered best is the one where Red is trapped with both the Blue and Gray firing at him from opposite directions. He manages to escape that predicament in a truly interesting manner I won't reveal.
And if you don't think that A Southern Yankee might have had a bit of inspiration from the serious films I cited, if you've seen both Dark Journey and The Firefly, you'll know exactly A Southern Yankee ends.
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