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The Penguin Pool Murder 1932
Description: The body of unscrupulous stockbroker Gerald Parker suddenly appears in the penguin tank at the aquarium. Feisty schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers sets out to solve the murder.
Released: 09 Dec 1932 Director: George Archainbaud Writers: Willis Goldbeck (screen play), Stuart Palmer (from the novel by), Lowell Brentano (a story by) Actors: Edna May Oliver, Robert Armstrong, James Gleason, Mae Clarke Genres: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
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The Penguin Pool Murder Reviews:

It's really too terrible that they only made a several Hildegarde Withers mysteries and that only a several of these starred Edna May Oliver. The bottom line is that in the 1930s, no girl in Hollywood was more fun to watch in colourful helping roles than Miss Oliver, so it was a true treat to see her in a starring role--and one that allowed her cool screen persona to shine! Instead of the usual somewhat insipid detective series films, her Miss Withers was a smart-aleck and tough lady--not some pampered playboy or Chinese detective. Plus, it was a nice casting decision to have her work with police detective James Gleason and give him better than usual writing for such a role. In practically each B-detective series, the police are finished morons--so much so that the movies lack any suspense or chemistry at times. Usually you KNOW the cops are all idiots and the amateur sleuth knows everything, but here she is assisted by a reasonably capable cop and they work on the situation together. Because of this, it was pretty to see that through the course of the film, Gleason's hero fell for Miss Withers--he grew to love and respect her just like the audience did throughout the film.For the genre, this is about as nice a movie as you'll find--plus, it has pretty penguins and Edna May Oliver!! What more should you ask for in a movie?!?!


With the coming of sound to the films and "the Crash" to the stock market, musicals, screwball comedies and tightly plotted "cozy" mysteries became staples of 30's movie 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 acc 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 movies with his Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON (a decade before the Oscar winning makeover 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 method to that excellent bantering comedy.Miss Withers was one of the first screen characters to build on "the tiny old lady" detectives first introduced by Mary Roberts Rinehart and soon to be highly polished - though with fewer comic overtones - in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple tales.Beautifully acerbic hero actress Edna May Oliver first assayed the plum role of Withers in THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER, testing each stereotype of the prim, corseted but observant, spinster school teacher for all they were worth vs the background of a solidly plotted mystery and a grand helping cast headed by perennial mystery fixture James Gleason as the much put-upon Inspector Piper. A Fresh York Town actually long vanished became an active part of the helping cast.While Miss Oliver chose not to be pinned down to the continuing Withers role after only three movies (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 helping comedienne Zasu Pitts for a final two (THE PLOT THICKENS - '36, and FORTY NAUGHTY GIRLS - '37), all the Withers' movies are fun - but the Olivers are the greatest of the bunch.Connoisseurs of period mystery could especially treasure THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER for its zone shots of some actually vanished (or at least radically transformed) Manhattan landmarks - most notably the then Fresh York Town Aquarium (long before the institution decamped to Brooklyn). The building at Battery Park, at the hint of Manhattan, has since lost its roof and interior to be returned to its original (now landmarked) form as the current battery (a fort - "Castle Clinton") which protected Fresh York Harbor in the early 1800's. Before becoming the Aquarium shown in the 1932 movie it was already a popular 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 Fresh York Town Aquarium where Manhattanites should see examples of aquatic life (and the occasional film 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 movies like these can offer. While the Aquarium interiors were studio recreations, these had to be believable pictures of the globe the audiences they were issued to lived in, and we can learn a lot from them about that globe as a result. We have come a long method . . . in some ways.Today, Fresh York's Battery Park grows out from and around the building which beautifully begins of THE PENGUIN POOL MURDERS. The Park includes - directly in front of the former Aquarium - the most eloquent and finished memorial the tragedy of 9/11/01 should possibly have: the "fractured globe" which originally sat in the Plaza between the Twin Turrets - actually with an "eternal flame" at its base. If you're going to be in Fresh York, don't miss this increasingly meaningful piece of sculpture - but first see its setting as it looked 70 years earlier in delicious PENGUIN POOL MURDERS!


... are the two lessons that this nice tiny precode teaches us. The first lesson I think modern audiences know well, but the second we forget frequently, especially when it comes to romance.The storyline is not a remarkable one. Socialite Gwen Parker (Mae Clarke) is unhappily married to stockbroker Gerald Parker (Guy Usher), and she has a lover. Both her lover and her stockbroker husband are broke. Only the stockbroker's life insurance remains as an asset. As the movie opens, we also see that the curator of a local aquarium is mad with Gerald Parker because he thinks he crashed him and swindled him as well. We then see Gwen talking to her lover on the phone, but we never now see who he is. Gwen has an altercation with her rightfully jealous husband that ends with him striking her. She then decides to leave him.Later that day Gwen meets Philip Seymour (Donald Cook) at the local aquarium. Gwen's husband suddenly appears and accuses Philip and Gwen of being lovers. A scuffle between the two boys breaks out and Philip knocks Gerald Parker unconscious and says Gwen to wait for him downstairs in the aquarium. Philip then takes Gerald upstairs and the last thing we see of that stage are Philip's hands moving toward the unconscious man's throat. A several mins soon Gerald's dead body falls from above into the aquarium's penguin pool.Seems cute slash and dried doesn't it? Well it isn't at all.Add to all of this schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers (Edna Mae Oliver) is in the aquarium at the time of the murder with her students conducting a tour of the exhibits, and that she has quite the penchant for solving mysteries as well as agitating the detective on the case, Oscar Piper (James Gleason), and you have a nice tiny precode mystery here.What really makes this movie stand out is the chemistry of the leads, Gleason and Oliver. Here are two middle-aged people, of middling income and less than middling looks in the conventional sense, yet I'll watch this movie repeatedly just to see the two interact. You can see a respect and even attraction grow between these folks despite the caustic remarks that they trade. Then there are those nice precode one-liners from Oliver, not the type of items you'd expect from a prim and proper spinster such as Hildegarde.Highly suggested as an perfect begin to a nice series of mystery movies starring Oliver and Gleason.



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