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Hildegarde Withers
Topic Started: Jul 23 2013, 12:28 PM (1,069 Views)
Don Diego
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Warner Archives is releasing The Hildegarde Withers Mystery Collection 1932-37) One of the first break-out film series, Stuart Palmer’s spinster sleuth cracked cinema crime courtesy of RKO Pictures. Character great Edna May Oliver played the part for the first three features and was ably paired with another character great, James Gleason, as Hildegarde’s flirty foil, Inspector Piper. Gleason would ably anchor the rest of the series alongside replacement school marms Helen Broderick and Zasu Pitts. Collection includes:


Penguin Pool Murder (1932) Hildegarde takes her class on an aquarium field trip — to murder! With Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, and Robert Armstrong.
Murder on the Blackboard (1934) This time, murder comes calling inside the doors of Hildegarde’s own school — and the corpse takes a powder! With Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, and Bruce Cabot.
Murder On a Honeymoon (1935) Hildegarde takes a trip to Catalina Island, and doubles down on the murders to solve. With Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, and Lola Lane.
Murder on a Bridle Path (1935) Central Park goes sinister when a society equestrian is struck down while on an early morning ride. With James Gleason, Helen Broderick, and Louise Latimer.
The Plot Thickens (1936) A corpse turns up twice, and so Inspector Piper calls in Withers. With James Gleason, Zasu Pitts and Owen Davis, Jr.
Forty Naughty Girls (1937) Inspector Piper and Hildegarde go on a date to see a Broadway musical, but murder occurs. Naturally. With James Gleason, Zasu Pitts and Marjorie Lord.
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panzer the great & terrible
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I remember liking the novels. Penguin Pool Murders was about the best, near as I remember. You might think Zasu Pitts a strange choice to take over this series, but in the silent era she nailed several serious parts, so maybe the whole shebang is worth checking out.
Life is just a bowl of cherries, it's too mysterious, don't take it serious...
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CliffClaven
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Finally! Are there any worthwhile detective series left to release?

The first three with Edna Mae Oliver are superior whodunits. She's the grade school teacher nobody sassed, and her classroom authority is exactly what she brings to bear on suspects and cops. While her relationship with crusty James Gleason is certainly comic, it's not laughable.

Helen Broderick had a lot of potential, but her one movie was a yawn.

Zazu Pitts tried to go against her usual type in her first entry, being a bit tougher and pushier. But she ended up playing her standard dithering old dear, perhaps with a dash of deductive skill but almost receding into a comic sidekick for James Gleason. She wouldn't have lasted a week against a rowdy fifth grade class. Pitts certainly had the chops to play a stronger Hildegarde Withers; it's a shame she or the studio went with the "oh dear" character.

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riddlerider
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I'll buy the set if only to get the three Edna Mae Oliver pictures.
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riddlerider
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CliffClaven
Jul 23 2013, 02:31 PM
Finally! Are there any worthwhile detective series left to release?
I'd sure love to see a box of the Universal Crime Club pictures mastered from nice 35mm elements, but it's highly unlikely -- if not downright impossible -- that we'll ever get one.

Back in the laserdisc days I tried to convince some friends at Universal to push for a box of Thirties mysteries that would include the three Crime Club pictures still under Universal control, plus some one-offs like SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM, THE MISSING GUEST and THE HOUSE OF FEAR. One of the execs said to me, "Besides you there probably aren't more than 200 people on the planet who ever heard of those pictures. We wouldn't sell enough units to pay for the packaging, much less the cost of remastering the prints."
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JazzGuyy
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Warner Archive now has a deal with Universal, I believe, so it is possible this may happen via Warner Archive. It is possible I am mixed up and the deal is with Paramount but because of previous deals between TCM (another Time-Warner arm) and Universal (for some TCM Classics releases), I am fairly sure it is Universal. Warner Archive has stated they will be releasing titles under this deal. It just may take a while.
TANSTAAFL!
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panzer the great & terrible
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Execs aren't as ignorant as they used to be. I can't begin to tell you how many times some well-meaning pro has told me that nobody cares about old movies, but when they showed Napoleon four times in a big Oakland theater last year it was nearly sold out. Things have changed, and now there is an audience for B pictures because of the Pre Code and Film Noir fads. What I'd love to see is a Robert Florey box. I don't care how they sell it! That guy is seriously in need of recognition. He was Chaplin's AD, fer cryin' out loud.
Life is just a bowl of cherries, it's too mysterious, don't take it serious...
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riddlerider
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panzer the great & terrible
Jul 23 2013, 07:02 PM
What I'd love to see is a Robert Florey box. I don't care how they sell it! That guy is seriously in need of recognition.

Agreed. His late Thirties Paramount Bs were stylish, well-made, and had uniformly great casts, right down to the bit players. I'd start with a double-feature disc of his two 1936 films on filmmaking: HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD and THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY. For a box set I'd go with KING OF GAMBLERS (1937), DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (1937), KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938), DANGEROUS TO KNOW (1938), DEATH OF A CHAMPION (1939) and PAROLE FIXER (1939). His As are interesting too, but the Bs are all crackerjacks. I'd probably put a couple of the above on my list of Top Ten Favorite B Movies...if I had such a list.
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Laughing Gravy
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Not me, bub. I'd vote for The Beast with Five Fingers, The Face Behind the Mask, Magnificent Fraud, and Meet Boston Blackie. You can add whatever you want.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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Got the DVD and watched "The Penguin Pool Murder." A tad creaky (1932), but looks good and still a lot of fun.

Kind of shocked that we haven't seen a revival of Miss Withers or a new schoolteacher sleuth, considering that these days teachers have to be at least as sharp and tough.
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The Penguin Pool Murder (1932) Dir. George Archainbaud
A Radio Picture
66 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
DVD: Warner Archive

Mae Clarke's jealous and abusive husband has hit her once too often; he's slugged by Donald Cook, one of her boyfriends (okay, so just maybe the husband had the right to be jealous) and a few minutes later the husband's dead body is dumped into the penguin pool at the New York Aquarium, where schoolmarm Miss Withers - with her class on a field trip - discovers it. Turns out that she's got a little something to do with the murder weapon, so she ably assists cop James Gleason in tackling the mystery, which centers around additional suspects Clarence Withers (an Aquarium employee), a deaf-mute pickpocket, and Robert Armstrong, penguin fancier and crime attorney.

Stuart Palmer's novel was practically brand new when Radio Pictures optioned it for the screen, and they did a great job with it: this is a fine, very funny whodunnit with appealing characters, and the love/hate relationship between Withers and Police Detective Piper is a much better fit than the one between lady detective and cop in the Torchy Blaine series.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Cop: "What are you doin' hangin' around the fish house?"
Attorney: "Well, it's Friday, isn't it?"

We don't see much of Miss Wither's pupils, but they're a diverse group and there's a funny bit (well, sorry, but it is funny) with the Jewish kid. Donald Cook does nothing for me, but Miss Clarke is always a treat (and her rather questionable morals paint this as a true Pre-Code film) and Edna May Oliver (who'd do two more Withers films) and James Gleason (who'd do FIVE more) are both delightful. The youngest person at our Friday Night Films party this week was barely 21, and he laughed all the way through this thing. It was a solid hit, and I'm looking forward to more terms with Miss Withers; Warner Archive offers the six films in one boxed set.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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Miss Withers is long overdue for a reboot. The idea that dealing with grade schoolers and criminals requires the same skill set may be more apt than ever.

At one point somebody had the brilliant idea of casting Eve Arden for a television version, then had the lousy idea of making her lovably scatterbrained. The movies made a similar mistake by casting Zazu Pitts, who after the first film played her trademark dithering character. They never showed her in a classroom, but you know fifth graders would have eater her alive.
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Murder on the Blackboard (1934) Dir. George Archainbaud
RKO Radio Pictures
71 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
DVD: Warner Archive

Somebody killed the music teacher while she was writing on the chalk board, and her body's disappeared, and Miss Withers really, really doesn't like dead bodies floating around in her school building, so she calls in Inspector Piper and the two of 'em get to work on cracking the case, and as it turns out, the murder was more complicated than it looks: not only was she brutally murdered, but she would've been dead soon anyway: somebody had been poisoning her, too!

The second excellent installment in the six-film series, with Edna May Oliver and James Gleason back as our two sleuths, he who thinks he knows it all and she who actually does but has just as much fun pointing out his mistakes than she does solving the crime.

Regis Toomey and Edgar Kennedy are the detective sidekicks; Edgar is back from the previous film, and for the second time in the series, he gets cracked over the head and spends much of the movie unconscious. Suspects this time include Bruce Cabot and Gertrude Michael as other teachers, Frederick Vogeding as the drunken, creepy janitor, Tully Marshall as the skirt-chasing principal, and probably two or three others but none of them ended up doing it so I can't recall who they were.

Million-dollar Dialog:

Inspector Piper, on his #1 suspect: "It's an open and shut case ... the guy's a moron!"
Hildy: "You should get him on the force."

The Inspector again, congratulating himself: "I oughta be a detective in the movies!"
Miss Withers: "You could do all the acting, and the author could solve the crime."

Great dialog, interesting characters, crackling chemistry between Miss Withers and Insp. Piper... really loving this series.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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AndyFish
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Gravy you LIKE this series and don't like Charlie Chan?
She's got all the charm of Elizabeth Warren but with some actual smarts.
Not for me, I found these extremely creaky.
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There only difference between watching a Charlie Chan movie and staring at the picture on the box is Mantan Moreland occasionally shows up in the film itself, all I was ever able to stay awake through. I find the Chans deadly dull, but the first two films in this series were very funny and enjoyable.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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