Thursday, July 3, 2014

Miss Withers at her sharp-tongued best.

Read/Watch 'em in Order #47

In his excellent book Mystery Movie Series of the 1930s, Ron Backer calls Murder on a Honeymoon "the most entertaining of the Hildegarde Withers movies."  And, by golly, he's right.

First of all, no one played Miss Withers with sharp-tongued perfection quite like Edna May Oliver. And, since this is the last film in which Oliver plays the role (her contract with RKO was up and she signed with MGM), the best one has to be one of the first three. Here, she is definitely at her best, snapping out one witty line after another as she looks into yet another murder.

Miss Withers is on vacation--but the work of amateur detectives is never done, since they tend to stumble over corpses with odd frequency. (Have you ever heard the fan theory that Jessica Fletcher from the Murder She Wrote TV series is actually a mad serial killer who has framed hundreds of people for her crimes? Explains a lot, doesn't it?)

Miss Withers is on a seaplane, taking a short flight to Catalina Island, when one of the other passengers keels over dead. The local police think its a natural death, but Miss Withers has reason to suspect otherwise. She cables Inspector Piper for more information, learning that the dead man was set to testify against mobsters. Piper immediately flies out to Catalina to help with the case and watch out for his friend.

This brings James Gleason as Piper into the story. Interestingly, Piper was not a major character in the novel this film was based on (The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree), but the screenwriters--including humorist Robert Benchley--were wise enough to know that the interplay between Oliver and Gleason were 93.7% of the fun
inherent in the series.

From there, the mystery flows along swiftly. The body of the murder victim is stolen from the morgue, so a full autopsy to show the cause of death can't be performed. The other passengers on the plane all seemed to have opportunity to poison the victim, but there's no way to conclusively pin the crime on any of them. (By the way, two of the passengers are newlyweds--hence the film's title.) One of the mobsters against whom the victim would have testified is in Catalina, but arrived after the murder was committed.

Miss Withers and Piper investigate while trading verbal barbs, eventually finding the body and a few other clues. Then there's another murder. Then Miss Withers is held at gunpoint by the mobster. Then there's a third murder. But by now, Miss Withers knows who the killer is--and she has an idea on how to prove it.

This movie is fun. The mystery element is solid--Ron Backer points out that it is structured as a step-by-step police procedural seeded with a number of red herrings. And the Oliver/Gleason combination as the two leads continues to be pure gold. They really are at their best this time around.

Sadly, Oliver does move on to MGM, leaving Miss Withers behind. Though the other three films in the series are quite good, I won't be covering them as part of the In Order series, because things will never be quite the same without Edna May. (I may write about them on an individual basis some time in the future.)

So we'll have to jump to another movie series for the "watch 'em" part of the In Order series. As of the date I'm writing this (about 5 weeks before it posts), I haven't made up my mind which films to do next. I'll be in Turkey on a mission trip for part of that time, so it's possible I still won't have decided when this post goes public. I'm open to suggestions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...