Eric Gorman returns with his wife Evelyn from a trip to the Orient collecting zoo animals, having killed a member of his expedition who happened one day to kiss Mrs. Gorman. On board ship Evelyn meets Roger Hewitt, who falls in love with her. After delivering his animals to the zoo, Gorman plots a way to dispose of Hewitt using one of his latest specimens, then continues using the zoo's non-human residents to do his beastly work. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
When Gorman returns from Indo-China, at least one lion is visible among his catch. Lions have never been indigenous to Southeastern Asia. See more »
Mr. Gates, never be afraid of a wild animal. Let it alone, and it'll leave you alone. That's more than we can say of most humans.
You mean that you really like these, eh?
Beasts? I love them. They're honest in their simplicity, their primative emotions... They love, they hate, they kill.
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Universal's success with such films as Dracula and FRANKENSTEIN prompted other studios to jump on the horror-genre bandwagon, and among the results was MURDERS IN THE ZOO, released in 1933 by Paramount. In many respects it is quite a fine film: the story is clever, the production values are quite fine, and the cast is unexpectedly memorable.
The story concerns big game hunter Eric Gorman (Lionell Atwill), who prefers to bring 'em back alive for exhibition, and opens in the wild--where Gorman is seen sewing shut a man's mouth because the man dared attempt to kiss his Gorman's wife Evelyn (Kathleen Brooke.) Upon their return to the United States, the terrified Evelyn determines to leave Gorman for handsome Roger Hewitt (John Lodge), but Gorman puts two and two together and comes up with murder.
Lionel Atwill was a popular player in shock-and-shudder shows of the 1930s and gives his usual polished performance; although not an outstanding actress, Kathleen Brooke is at least competent and possesses an unusual beauty that is unexpectedly appropriate for a woman captured and held by a game hunter. John Lodge, who later went on to a successful political career, is memorable as well. But, a bit oddly, MURDERS IN THE ZOO really rests on the shoulders of its supporting cast: Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick, and Charles Ruggles, who actually receives star billing over Lionel Atwill in spite of appearing in what is essentially a comic-relief role.
Ruggles, who specialized in playing disconcerted eccentrics, is perhaps best recalled for the classic BRINGING UP BABY, and in many respects MURDERS IN THE ZOO is typical of his work in the 1930s: a comic, dithering, and occasionally drunken publicity man hired to boost attendance at the zoo. Gail Patrick performed memorably in such famous films as MY MAN GODFREY, STAGE DOOR, and MY FAVORITE WIFE, most often cast as an icy and calculating character; here she has a change of pace as the sympathetic Jerry Evans, and she acquits herself quite well. Randolph Scott would soon become a memorable star of westerns; here, however, we catch him on his way up, cast as Jack Woodford, scientist at the zoo and Gail Patrick's love interest, and he is quite good as well.
But for all the notable or soon-to-be notable names, for all the clever plot ideas, for all its high quality in terms of production, MURDERS IN THE ZOO just never really seems to take off. To my mind, the problem is the script, which tends to emphasize Charles Ruggles' scatty pressman; Ruggles gives his usual expert performance, but the role doesn't really have anything to do with the plot and the action comes to a screeching halt whenever the camera focuses on Ruggles. The result, even with a short running time of just over an hour, makes the film seem rather drawn out.
Ultimately, MURDERS IN THE ZOO is a film best left to hardcore fans of 1930s horror who are interested in seeing what studios other than Universal were doing with the genre. Mildly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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