Penguin Pool Murder, besides the peculiar title (and lack of a definite article), opens like almost any other early thirties mystery. A possible unfaithful wife, Mae Clarke, has a swindling louse of a husband, Guy Usher. When he ends up dead, there are multiple suspects.
Only the murder occurs at the aquarium (hence the title) and, it just so happens, a schoolteacher is giving her class a tour. The schoolteacher in question, played by Edna May Oliver, is half what sets Penguin apart. The other half is James Gleason as the police detective. He soon–first reluctantly, then enthusiastically–enlists Oliver as his partner.
The banter between Oliver and Gleason suggests the pair is an established comedy team but Penguin‘s their first pairing. From the moment the two get together, the film is a delight.
Even before they do, the film’s production values go far to recommend it. There are no exterior shots in the entire picture, but every set is exquisite–particularly the aquarium. Archainbaud has some great set-up shots and his direction is generally strong… though his inserts are bad. Editor Jack Kitchin’s weak cutting undoubtedly contributes, but Archainbaud’s direction is responsible for the jump cuts.
The mystery itself isn’t much of one–the film, which is very short, runs out of interesting suspects fairly quickly. Fourth billed Clarke disappears after the first act, leaving Robert Armstrong (as her attorney) to fill her slot.
He, and Clarence Wilson, are strong supporting assets.
Penguin‘s a lot of fun.
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