Sunday, May 2, 2021
The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
The film series went rapidly downhill after her departure. Attempts were made to revive it on television in the 50s and as a TV movie in the early 70s, with a noticeable lack of success. There was just no way to make the formula work without Edna May Oliver.
To Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason) it all seems straightforward. Miss Withers is not so sure. She was the one who first spotted the body. She was at the aquarium with her class and had already done some crime-fighting, having apprehended a pickpocket. The pickpocket has Harper’s watch in his pocket so he could be a suspect. Bertrand B. Hemingway, the director of the aquarium, might also be a suspect - he blamed Harper for ruining him. Even Hildegarde is a suspect at one point. But Gwen and Seymour seem to be Inspector Piper’s favoured suspects. Gwen’s lawyer Barry Costello (Robert Armstrong) hopes Miss Withers can clear her.
Hildegarde also gets some help from the aquarium’s penguin. He finds a vital clue.
To be honest the mystery plot, while serviceable, isn’t particularly outstanding. Most of the success of the movie is due to the performances of James Gleason and (especially) Edna May Oliver, and the fine comic repartee between the two of them. The other performances are all solid. Plus it has penguin cuteness.
I haven’t read Stuart Palmer’s novel so I can’t say how well it compares to the movie. I’ve only read one Hildegarde Withers novel, The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla, which (like this movie) combines comedy and mystery but with the mystery elements being just a little weak.
The Penguin Pool Murder would have been a fairly average mystery movie but the two wonderful leads are enough reason to give it a recommended rating. Lightweight fun but nowhere near as good as the contemporary Charlie Chan mysteries.