Old Movie Teams

Weren’t they also in that other movie?

Edna May Oliver & James Gleason

James Gleason & Edna May Oliver in “Penguin Pool Murder”

Edna May Oliver and James Gleason launch a series of Hildegarde Withers comedy/detective films with The Penquin Pool Murder (1932) movie. Oliver is perfect as Withers, whose prim and proper determination to solve a mystery complements and contrasts Inspector Piper’s (Gleason) “What the-?!” ineptitude as he seeks not only to catch a murderer, but to extricate himself from a domineering and exasperatingly capable Miss Withers — amature detective and persnickety school teacher extraordinaire. Oliver and Gleason are a match made in heaven — the heaven with a good sense of humor.

The two made two more Hildegarde Withers movies: Murder on the Blackboard (1934) and Murder on a Honeymoon (1935).  Oliver left the series in 1935 to pursue other roles for which she is probably much better remembered: Miss Pross in A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice (1940), to name just two.

Gleason continued in his role as Inspector Piper for all six of the Hildegard Withers detective films. Helen Broderick (perhaps best known as the mother of Broderick Crawford) appeared with Gleason in the 1936 Murder on the Bridle Path; after which Zasu Pitts assumed the role for the series’ final two films: The Plot Thickens (1936) and Forty Naughty Girls (1937).

Gleason and Oliver did not get any other chances to appear together in films. Oliver died unexpectedly on her birthday at age 59 in 1942.
James Gleason & Edna May Oliver’s promo shot for “Penguin Pool Murder”

9 Comments»

  JOHN W. MOORE wrote @

Such wonderful actors these 2 were.
A time in this world which will never happen again, ever.
I wish I could have lived in that era for more reasons that just this.
Hope to see these people in a better place one of these day; what a day that will be.

  john dunkle wrote @

I have three of her films and I can’t get enough of them! They were the best. Both her and Gleason were a match made in heaven. You could almost imagine them as a married couple. Bless them both.

  susan simicich wrote @

i also wish that I could live in that time era. It just seem that it was a simpler time. people didn’t have much. But you were happy. And there was good clean fun. Not like today. I love all the old movies.I can’t seem to find THe penquin pool murder, or all of the other movies with gleason and EDNA MAy Oliver. please let me know where I can buy them . thank you.!

  pkingwp wrote @

I agree. There is something magical that occurs when watching these old films (any good movie, actually). We find ourselves transported into a setting that is populated with interesting, fun people with whom it would be a wonderful experience to spend the day.

Unfortunately, two of the films James Gleason and Edna May Oliver teamed up in (i.e. “Murder on the Blackboard” and “Murder on a Honeymoon”) have not yet been released on DVD. Nor, as far as I know, were they ever released on VHS. “The Penguin Pool Murder” can be found on DVD via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Penguin-Murder-Gleason-Oliver-All-Region/product-reviews/B005RALG8I

I can’t guarantee the quality of the recording. I suspect the film is in the public domain now (given its age) and any renderings of it on DVD are probably not output from any major studio or film production company and may not measure up to the quality of a theatrical release. So one takes a chance in purchasing these movies from Amazon.com’s third-party vendors. That being said, even a poor rendering of the film would be worth a look — it being such a fun movie to watch.

As for the other two films, there are several Websites that promise to provide a free download or streaming of them. But I have found that these downloads and streaming video offers are merely “come-ons” that, in the tradition of bait-and-switch, seem intent only on getting a prospective viewer to download (for a price) software for viewing downloads and streaming video. In other words, be careful not to get hoodwinked by Websites that promise to provide you with a way to watch these other two movies. For the other two movies, as far as I know, have not yet been released in any form for home viewing.

The cable network Turner Classic Movies does occasionally air all three of these movies. If you are not a regular viewer already, I encourage you to check out the network online (http://www.tcm.com) where you can see a monthly schedule of what is airing. There is even a feature on the TCM Website that allows a person to recommend titles for airing on the network, as well as a feature for casting a vote to encourage the movie industry to release particular titles on DVD — the principle behind the feature being that, if enough votes are cast for any one movie, the industry may see the money-making potential for releasing that title on DVD and indeed release it.

  Astonished librarian wrote @

Just been shown on British TV. Wonderful! Understand Warner are reissuing them on DVD soon. Can’t wait.

  vegangardener wrote @

Astonished Librarian: when was it shown on UK TV and where? I missed that I so desperately want to watch “Murder on a Honeymoon”. I loved the first two.

  pkingwp wrote @

To watch “Murder on a Honeymoon” or any of the Hildegarde Withers murder mysteries, you might want to search for the on-demand DVD that Amazon.com sells. Do a search on Amazon.com for ‘The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries Movies Collection’.

  Grammadiane wrote @

I have spent hours doing research looking for this wonderful actress & actor. In my memory I felt they had to be British Miss Marple but I never could find a dot of information on this couple… Finally realizing just keep an eye out on TCM & you will find them in an old movie & it finally happened the other day.. I am thrilled now to have captured one of their films.. The Penguin Pool Murder.. The comedy of the two & the timing of Miss Oliver is still as amazing and delightful for me to watch as it was many many years ago when I first found her…So happy to have names now & I will continue doing research & try to gather a collection of the mysteries they did together!!! Happy camper in South Carolina!!!

  Sunnie wrote @

My husband and I have, during the past few months, looked forward for TCMs showing of the Hildegarde Withers murder mysteries with the great Edna Mae Oliver and James Gleason. Wished they had more movies together as the chemistry and comedic rhythm shown was hard to beat. We, too, wish we could go back to an easier time where you could kick back for 11/2 hrs and enjoy the movie without having bad language or nudity. I’m so glad TCM found this series with these great actors and can hardly wait until next Sat to see the next episode.


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