34 user 9 critic

The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

Passed | | Comedy, Drama, Mystery | 9 December 1932 (USA)
Shady stockbroker and abusive husband Gerald Parker is found dead in the penguin pool of a NYC aquarium after being knocked cold by his wife's boyfriend.


George Archainbaud


Willis Goldbeck (screen play), Stuart Palmer (from the novel by) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Edna May Oliver ... Miss Hildegarde Withers
Robert Armstrong ... Barry Costello
James Gleason ... Police Inspector Oscar Piper
Mae Clarke ... Gwen Parker
Donald Cook ... Philip Seymour
Edgar Kennedy ... Donovan
Clarence Wilson Clarence Wilson ... Bertrand B. Hemingway (as Clarence H. Wilson)
James Donlan James Donlan ... Fink
Gustav von Seyffertitz ... Von Donnen (as Gustav Von Seyffertitz)
William Le Maire William Le Maire ... MacDonald (as William LeMaire)
Joe Hermano Joe Hermano ... Chicago Lew
Guy Usher Guy Usher ... Gerald Parker
Rochelle Hudson ... Telephone Operator
Wilfrid North Wilfrid North ... Judge


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 <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A School-marm from Iowa Solves a Crime That Stumped the Police (Print ad- Elmira Star-Gazette ((Elmira, N. Y.)) 13 February 1933)


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

9 December 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Penguin Pool Murder See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The Ruth Snyder - Judd Gray murder case alluded to by Inspector Piper was a notoriously inept crime of passion committed in 1927. Both "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" were inspired by the case, according to their author James M. Cain. See more »


After Oliver and Gleason finish eating breakfast in Oliver's home, Oliver looks into the camera, or towards the crew, several times. Appears as if she is puzzled or taking direction from someone. See more »


Hildegard Withers: Oh, you penguin fanciers, you're such flatterers.
Barry Costello: That's the secret of our success with penguins.
Hildegard Withers: Well, some good woman is losing a very pleasant husband by it.
See more »


Referenced in Murder on the Blackboard (1934) See more »

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User Reviews

A great recreation of a piece of New York history
5 January 2014 | by duke1029See all my reviews

As there are many reviews correctly praising the work of Edna Mae Oliver, James Gleason, and RKO studios set decorating department, suffice it to say that this is an outstanding opening entry into the Hildegarde Withers mystery series.

Most of the action of "The Penguin Pool Murders" takes place in a recreation of the beautiful New York Aquarium, which charmed and delighted resident and tourist alike for almost half a century beginning in 1896. The Aquarium was originally located on the southern tip of Manhattan as a leisure attraction for the new immigrant residents of Lower Manhattan for whom Central Park was too far to travel. It opened in the Castle Gardens section of the Park in what was Clinton Gardens, previously Fort Clinton, named after iconic New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton. Originally an island, the land connecting it to Manhattan was later filled in, and Battery Park served as the first stopping point for New Americans before Ellis Island was developed.

Although the Aquarium wasn't large by current standards (only 150 species), and its pools weren't large enough to ensure the well-being and survival of large aquatic mammals like manatees, porpoises, and dolphins, smaller ones like seals fared better.

There was great controversy when New York's "master builder," Robert Moses, who had little respect for preservation and tradition, proposed a bridge from the Battery to Brooklyn. When Moses was frustrated in his efforts for the Bridge, he began preparations for what would become the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1930s. He began the demolition of the beautiful Clinton Gardens, and only its eleventh hour designation as a National, Landmark caused it to be rescued from oblivion and rebuilt as a treasured landmark..

The collection of animals had been relocated, some to the Bronx Zoo and others to other zoos in the Northeast when the Aquarium closed its doors for the last time in 1941. After the War a new aquarium was constructed and reopened in 1957 in Coney Island. The new facility had over 8000 specimens and 350 species. Although it afforded its permanent residents more space and helped to revitalize the Coney Island area, many felt that it was not an aesthetically pleasing place as the old Battery Park facility, and critics claimed that its unattractiveness was the egotistical Moses' ultimate revenge on the city that denied him his bridge.

Those who have seen Ric Burns' wonderful documentary miniseries "New York" realize that Moses' power made him the most influential individual official in.Big Apple history... and nobody elected him.

In recreating what is one of the few visual records of this beautiful piece of New York history in essentially what was only a B-film series, the RKO set set designers deserve tremendous credit. The mystery itself is first rate with Edna Mae Oliver and James Gleason exuding great humor and personal chemistry as two enjoyably mismatched detectives in this very intriguing whodunit.

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