The body of unscrupulous stockbroker Gerald Parker suddenly appears in the penguin tank at the aquarium. Naturally, suspicion falls on his wife and her boyfriend, who were present. ... See full summary »
The body of unscrupulous stockbroker Gerald Parker suddenly appears in the penguin tank at the aquarium. Naturally, suspicion falls on his wife and her boyfriend, who were present. Inspector Piper investigates with the unsolicited aid of teacher Hildegard Withers, a witness who's taken an interest in the case; Piper develops a grudging respect for Miss Withers' acumen (and sharp tongue), as they search among the red herrings for the aquarium killer... Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The telephone operator (Rochelle Hudson) calls Hildegarde Withers (Edna May Oliver) "Lydia Pinkham." The reference is to the woman who brewed alcohol-based elixirs touted as a "women's tonic" said to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains. See more »
The boom's shadow appears on a column behind Edna Mae Oliver when Miss Withers is looking through the aquarium at night. See more »
[to telephone operator]
Now that you've got your disguise on, I would like to ask you a few questions. That is if you talk through all that make-up.
See more »
With the coming of sound to the movies and "the Crash" to the stock market, musicals, screwball comedies and tightly plotted "cozy" mysteries became staples of 30's film going and frequently a valuable, if unintentional, tour of the decade's culture (one of the potential motives of one of the suspects in THE PENGUIN POOL MURDERS is a "margin call" on a brokerage account about to be wiped out by falling stock prices!).
In 1932, a year after Dashiel Hammett had introduced the "hard boiled" detective to novels and films with his Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON (a decade before the Oscar winning remake we all know today!), while Philo Vance was still at his peak, Charlie Chan had just started his marathon run, and two years before Dashiel Hammett would backtrack to seemingly invent the "comedy mystery" in the first of the THIN MAN series, Stuart Palmer's "Hildegarde Withers" stories were pointing the way to that perfect bantering comedy.
Miss Withers was one of the first screen characters to build on "the little old lady" detectives first introduced by Mary Roberts Rinehart and later to be highly polished - though with fewer comic overtones - in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple tales.
Beautifully acerbic character actress Edna May Oliver first assayed the plum role of Withers in THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER, playing every stereotype of the prim, corseted but observant, spinster school teacher for all they were worth against the background of a solidly plotted mystery and a grand supporting cast headed by perennial mystery fixture James Gleason as the much put-upon Inspector Piper. A New York City now long vanished became an active part of the supporting cast.
While Miss Oliver chose not to be pinned down to the continuing Withers role after only three films (THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER - '32, MURDER AT THE BLACKBOARD - '34 and MURDER ON A HONEYMOON - '35), passing on the part to solid comedienne Helen Broderick for the less well written but enjoyable and frequently aired MURDER ON THE BRIDAL PATH - '36 and (with less effect) fine supporting comedienne Zasu Pitts for a final two (THE PLOT THICKENS - '36, and FORTY NAUGHTY GIRLS - '37), all the Withers' films are fun - but the Olivers are the best of the bunch.
Connoisseurs of period mystery should especially treasure THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER for its location shots of some now vanished (or at least radically transformed) Manhattan landmarks - most notably the then New York City Aquarium (long before the institution decamped to Brooklyn).
The building at Battery Park, at the tip of Manhattan, has since lost its roof and interior to be returned to its original (now landmarked) form as the actual battery (a fort - "Castle Clinton") which protected New York Harbor in the early 1800's. Before becoming the Aquarium shown in the 1932 film it was already a famous roofed building: converted in 1823 to the "Castle Garden" theatre where in the 1850's Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale," made her American debut and Lola Montes danced! From 1855 to 1890, it was the United States' immigration depot before Ellis Island was built, and as such, the first ground in America millions of immigrants set foot on. Then, for years it was the New York City Aquarium where Manhattanites could see examples of aquatic life (and the occasional movie corpse).
The Aquarium would not pass muster today for the cramped, indeed life threatening, conditions its inmates were forced to endure - but that in itself is part of the realistic picture of life in the 30's seemingly minor films like these can offer. While the Aquarium interiors were studio recreations, these had to be believable pictures of the world the audiences they were issued to lived in, and we can learn a lot from them about that world as a result. We have come a long way . . . in some ways.
Today, New York's Battery Park grows out from and around the building which beautifully starts of THE PENGUIN POOL MURDERS. The Park contains
directly in front of the former Aquarium - the most eloquent and
complete memorial the tragedy of 9/11/01 could possibly have: the "fractured globe" which originally sat in the Plaza between the Twin Towers - now with an "eternal flame" at its base. If you're going to be in New York, don't miss this increasingly meaningful piece of sculpture
but first see its setting as it looked 70 years earlier in delightful
PENGUIN POOL MURDERS!
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