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The Plot Thickens

The Plot Thickens(1936)

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teaser The Plot Thickens (1936)

Based on the popular mystery novels of Stuart Palmer, RKO Radio Pictures' series of Hildegarde Withers whodunits ran to six features produced over the course of five years. Born to play the part of Palmer's spinster sleuth was 49 year-old actress Edna Mae Oliver, who remained with the franchise for three films, beginning with Penguin Pool Murder (1932) and ending with Murder on a Honeymoon (1935). When Oliver quit RKO for a more attractive contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (and plumier parts in the studio's literary adaptations David Copperfield [1935] and Romeo and Juliet [1937]), the role of the indefatigably exacting amateur detective passed to Helen Broderick (mother of Broderick), with series costar James Gleason continuing in his sidekick function as Miss Withers' partner in crime-solving, frequently frazzled homicide dick Oscar Piper. For the last two series entries, RKO brought in former silent film actress ZaSu Pitts, who contributed a unique interpretation of the character, supplanting Oliver's sobersided certainty with a fluttery comic diffidence. Based on Palmer's 1933 novel The Case of the Dangling Pearl, The Plot Thickens (1936) finds Hildegarde again tagging along to the scene of a crime and unmasking a gang of jewel thieves at play among Manhattan high society. Pitts returned to the role in the Broadway-set Forty Naughty Girls (1937) before RKO let its option lapse on any further adventures for Hildegarde Withers and Oscar Piper.

By Richard Harland Smith

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