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 <email@example.com>
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 »
PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO Radio, 1932), directed by George Archainbaud, the first (and best) of six film mystery series featuring Stuart Palmer's fictional character of Hildegarde Withers, a spinster schoolteacher, who matches wits with Oscar Piper, a New York City police inspector, is a rare find these days, considering how it predates Agatha Christie's better known female sleuth of Miss Marple. In retrospect, Hildegarde becomes a detective on her own only when the police cannot solve or deduct any clues she encounters, and yet, not being on a professional level when crime solving is concerned, proves that experience is not the issue, but the powers of deduction are.
The story opens with an air view of New York City's Battery Park where various characters are introduced: Gwen (Mae Clarke), a young woman married to Gerald Parker (Guy Usher), a middle-aged businessman, having secret rendezvous with her lover, Philip Seymour (Donald Cook) at an aquarium. Obviously, she wants a divorce but Parker won't grant her one. After receiving an anonymous telephone tip about his wife, Parker heads over to the aquarium where he catches Gwen and Phil together. At the same time, Hildegarde Withers (Edna May Oliver), a spinster schoolteacher, enters the scene with her students on a field trip. Aside from her encounter with a purse snatcher who happens to be the deaf and dumb Chicago Lew (Joe Hernando), a body of a dead man is discovered floating in one of the penguin pool tanks. The man in question happens to be Gerald Parker. Police Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason) is called into the case. He suspects Parker's wife to be the killer, however, her lover, Seymour, confesses to the crime and is arrested. Hildegarde, however, has her suspicions, and as she takes notes, comes to the conclusion that Seymour couldn't have possibly killed him. Regardless, Seymour is placed under arrest and put under suspicion. After learning that Parker was murdered with the use of her own hat pin found plunged into his right ear drum to the brain, Hildegarde decides to take matters into her own hands by becoming a crime solver herself, much to the dismay of Inspector Oscar Piper.
The success to the initial pairing of Edna May Oliver and James Gleason lead to several sequels, all featuring Gleason, two more starring Oliver, including MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD (1934) and MURDER ON A HONEYMOON (1935), one with Helen Broderick in MURDER ON THE BRIDLE PATH (1936), and two featuring ZaSu Pitts in THE PLOT THICKENS (1936) and FORTY NAUGHTY GIRLS (1937). While Broderick physically was a satisfactory substitute for Oliver, though no where as good as Oliver, the series actually fell apart once it acquired Pitts services, which brought an end to what might have become a long running film series.
Supporting cast consists of Edgar Kennedy as Donovan; Robert Armstrong as Barry Costello, the attorney; Gustav Von Seyffertitz as Max Von Donnen, the lab expert; Clarence Wilson as the aquarium director; Sidney Miller as the typical know-it-all student; and Rochelle Hudson as the Switchboard Girl. Edgar Kennedy, famous for his "slow-burn" characterizations in numerous features and comedy shorts, is completely bald in this installment, mainly due to the fact that he was playing Daddy Warbucks in LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE (1932) with Mitzi Green, about the same time he was working in PENGUIN POOL MURDER.
Never distributed to video or DVD, and at one time a late night show favorite on commercial TV channels, and formerly shown on cable television's American Movie Classics from the 1980s to 1998, at then on Turner Classic Movies where it had once been presented some years ago as part of viewer's request night.
In spite of its age, PENGUIN POOL MURDER surprisingly holds up well, thanks to the perfect casting of the horse-faced Edna May Oliver and New York sounding James Gleason in the leads, a well written and occasionally witty screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, and although viewers might guess whom the killer might be before it is all over, it's certainly fun to sit through this one to see through Hildegarde's power of deduction how she gets to trick the killer into reveal him or herself. While not in the same league as an Alfred Hitchcock movie suspensor or Agatha Christie mystery story, but themes such as this have been an inspiration for many mystery writers, film directors or TV writers in later years, for that mysteries such as this continue to delight audiences even today. (**1/2)
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