Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Penguin Pool Murder

Thanks to reader Fabulous for turning us on to the 1932 film The Penguin Pool Murder, which features several rare interior shots of the old New York City Aquarium, which you can read about here.

The Aquarium was closed by Robert Moses in 1941, when he planned to build a bridge at Battery Park, so these scenes are from its final decade, after being a showplace since 1896.

Moses called the Aquarium an "ugly wart." In The Penguin Pool Murder, it's clearly no such thing.

The film footage not only shows the Aquarium as a backdrop to the drama (murder! mystery!), it lingers over its details, highlighting many of the fish and other occupants, with close-ups of their tanks, including action shots of an octopus grabbing its prey, and feeding time at the (itty-bitty) seal tank.

It appears that every inch of the Aquarium is on this film--the director's office, behind the tanks, even inside the men's restroom where you can enjoy the sight of 1932 New York's paper-towel and soap dispensers.

There are also many taxidermied sea creatures hanging on the walls.

not Hildegarde

The film itself is rather sluggish, though the trailer calls it "one long, hearty laugh from beginning to end." It is known for launching the role of Hildegarde Withers, who makes the "police look like a bunch of pansies." She's a schoolteacher turned sleuth, "A lean, angular spinster lady, her unusual hats and the black cotton umbrella she carries are her trademark... Hildegarde collects tropical fish, abhors alcohol and tobacco, and appears to have an irritable disposition."

Watch the movie here on youtube or check out the trailer at TCM.


Streets of Stamford said...

Wow! What a cool find. How about a series of posts about movies featuring lost and forgotten New York locations? Heck, you could even do a Forgotten Film Festival!

Unknown said...

The place seems kind of glorious. Too bad Robert Moses got his way too often. My father went there when he was a small child. He says it is one his most vivid memories.

Peter Salwen said...

We're watching this film right now and thoroughly enjoying the leisurely tour through the magnificent old institution. I believe Castle Clinton served as NYC's aquarium far longer than it served any other purpose.-- Peter Salwen