Movie Critique - Murder on the Blackboard

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Talented classic actors giving an outstanding performance with witty dialogues, enough intrigue in the murder mystery even though it is low-key, the movie entertains everyone from start to finish.

Murder on the Blackboard is a 1934 American pre-Code comedy mystery film directed by George Archainbaud, Produced by Pandro S. Berman. The primary plot was based on the 1932 novel of the same name by Stuart Palmer, screenplay for which was written by Willis Goldbeck.

This is the second of the three films starring Edna May Oliver as the schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers and James Gleason as Inspector Oscar Piper investigating murders. The first film was the 1932 The Penguin Pool Mystery and the third film was the 1935 Murder on a Honeymoon. Archainbaud also directed the first film in the series. 

In this film Oliver and Gleason are supported by Bruce Cabot, Gertrude Michael, Regis Toomey and Edgar Kennedy among others. This is also one of the first post-King Kong roles for Bruce Cabot. He plays the role of Addison Stevens, one of the teachers in the school.

Hildegarde Withers discovers the dead body of the music teacher, Louise Halloran (portrayed by Barbara Fritchie) and reaches out to her friend Inspector Oscar Piper for help. But then the corpse disappears. Now it's up to Miss Withers and Oscar to wade through all the clues, interrogate all the suspects and come to the bottom of the case. Although they have to face a few perils and surprising turns to reach the end goal. 

Stuart Palmer created the character Hildegarde Withers who is an amateur crime solver with a close resemblance to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Fourteen novels, four short story collections and several short fiction stories have been written for Hildegarde Withers. Most of them appeared in the Mystery Magazine. 

The books were adapted to six films, one tv film and one pilot episode of the proposed TV Sitcom titled Amazing Miss Withers. This film was the second of the six films made, second of the series with Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde Withers, and based on the third novel of the same name published in 1932. Oliver was Withers only for the first three films, but Gleason played the part of Inspector Oscar Piper in all the six films.

The opening credits show the main actors in their actual live pose with their names and their character names as well printed on them similar to the below picture I captured on my camera. 

I have seen Edna May Oliver in a few other movies but I couldn’t place here where, and my search on my blog failed to identify them as well. Wonder where I saw her in before, a mystery hopefully I will be able to solve one day.

Oliver and Gleason make quite a duo of detectives solving crime with humor and wit along-side. Goldbeck has most certainly provided some witty dialogues to match their chemistry. 

Oscar Piper: I got to admit, you can take it. / Hildegarde Withers: Well, don't forget, when necessary I can dish it out, too.
Oscar Piper: I oughta be a detective in the movies. / Hildegarde Withers: You could do all the acting, and the author could solve the crime.

Talented classic actors giving an outstanding performance with witty dialogues, enough intrigue in the murder mystery even though it is low-key, the movie entertains everyone from start to finish. A very good late night movie to watch cuddled up on your sofa. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The remaining three films that did not have Oliver as Miss Withers are - 1936 Murder on a Bridle Path (Helen Broderick is Miss Withers); the 1936 The Plot Thickens & the 1937 Forty Naughty Girls had ZaSu Pitts as Miss Withers.

b. The made for TV movie was released in 1972 titled A Very Missing Person with Eve Arden as Miss Withers. You might remember Arden for her famous character in the radio and TV show Our Miss Brooks. I posted a review of the only movie made for Miss Brooks in 1956 titled Our Miss Brooks, where Arden reprised her role.

c. The previous movie The Penguin Pool Murder is referred to several times in the film - In a note by Oscar to Miss Withers; MacFarland, head of the school, mentions it when he asks Miss Withers assistance to solve the murder; Inspector Oscar Piper refers to hit in a conversation.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Miss Withers begins to search Miss Halloran's desk, first there is only one flower vase on the table when seen from long shot. After a few minutes when the long shot appears again you can see two bottles instead along with the flower vase are seen.

b. Miss Withers pulls a chair closer to the separating door and keeps a watch sitting on it. However when the scene showing her getting up from the chair and going to the door shows the chair is quite far from the door. 


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