Withers Picks Up a Penguin
When a dead body is discovered in the penguin tank of the zoo there are plenty of suspects. There is Gwen (Mae Clarke), the wife who had tired of her jealous husband, Philip (Donald Cook) Gwen's boyfriend who had a confrontation with him just prior to his dead body being discovered, Mr. Hemingway (Clarence Wilson) the director of the zoo who had been conned by Parker as well as various other people who were around at the time. One of those other people is Miss Hildegard Withers (Edna May Oliver - Drums Along the Mohawk) a teacher who was there with her students and an amateur detective who ends up working with Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason - Loving You) to try and solve the case.
Let's make this very simple "Penguin Pool Murder" starts in quite a typical 1930's crime movie style with the wife, the lover and the swindled businessman all having reason to have killed Mr. Parker. But after that standard set up it turns into a comedy and a comedy which is firstly all about Edna May Oliver as Miss Withers and then about the comedy of Withers and Piper as they work together. Not once is it ever really about the who done it part as all you care about is the banter between the characters.
As such Willis Goldbeck who wrote the screenplay deserves a lot of praise because not only does the dialogue run thick and fast but in just 70 minutes the jokes are endless. But director George Archainbaud also deserves praise because not only does he allow the movie to bubble along, never allowing it to go too quickly he also makes great use of some interiors, none more so than the zoo scenes.
But as I said the real reason why "Penguin Pool Murder" works and still works over 80 years later lies in the stars. James Gleason as Detective Piper and Edna May Oliver as Miss Hildegard Withers are such a great double act with the dialogue between them so quick and sharp that you would think the two had been working together for years. Ironically this was the first of seven Hildegarde Withers movies but as I said it feels like they had been working together in character for years.
What this all boils down to is that "Penguin Pool Murder" is a fun comedy crime caper with the wonderful Edna May Oliver and James Gleason working brilliantly together to deliver scene after scene of snappy comedy.