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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 <email@example.com>
"Teacher, Teacher there's a man in the duck pool."
Edna Mae Oliver and James Gleason were two of the best character actors in Hollywood in the "golden age" of film making. Oliver always had a precise, aristocratic hauteur (she was Lady Catherine De Burgh in the 1940 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), but it usually masked an intense intelligence (see how she tears apart Basil Rathbone's Murdstone in David COPPERFIELD), and a decent morality. Gleason is not a university or book based intelligent gent. But he is a street smart type, who knows precisely what's what. And in THE PENGUIN POOL MURDERS they joined together as Hildegarde Withers and Inspector Piper of the New York Police Department. And from rubbing each other the wrong way they become friends, allies in solving the case, and possibly more (the movie suggest at the end).
Hildegard is a schoolteacher, who takes her class (a remarkably mixed racial class for 1932) on a field trip to the New York Acquarium, then in lower Manhattan in what is still Castle Clinton National Monument (it was also, in the 1850s, Castle Gardens, where Jenny Lind sang to the public). The visit is interrupted when Isidore (the Jewish kid in the class) points out (as in the summary line) that there is a man inside what he calls the "duck" pool. Actually it is the tank for the penguins.
The film follows how Hildegard and Piper pursue their investigations into the murder and gradually find that helping each other makes more sense. The humor builds as both our intrepid detectives confront various types, like humorless, dyspeptic Clarence Wilson as the aquarium director, and relatively stupid policeman Edgar Kennedy to find out what is the truth. It all comes down to a courtroom showdown, where the killer trips himself up in an unexpected manner.
A first rate comedy and who-done-it, that led to MURDER AT THE BLACKBOARD and MURDER ON THE HONEYMOON before the two stars went their separate ways.
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