Murder on the Blackboard


1h 11m 1934
Murder on the Blackboard

Brief Synopsis

A schoolteacher matches wits with a police detective when they both try to solve a pretty music teacher's murder.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Mystery
Release Date
Jun 15, 1934
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Murder on the Blackboard by Stuart Palmer (New York, 1932).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

After schoolteacher and amateur sleuth Hildegarde Withers discovers the corpse of music teacher Louise Halloran in the school cloak room, she notifies her friend and collaborator, Inspector Oscar Piper. By the time Oscar arrives, however, the body has disappeared. While Oscar questions Hildegarde's sanity, Donahue, Oscar's dim-witted assistant, explores noises in the basement and is knocked unconscious. Afraid of the dark, Hildegarde avoids the basement and sneaks into Louise's classroom, where she finds a bottle of liquor and a series of musical notes written on the blackboard. Confused as to how the killer could have escaped, Hildegarde and Oscar investigate the industrial arts room, where Addison Stevens, once an admirer of Louise, teaches. After Hildegarde makes note of an empty can of benzine, the fire alarm on the emergency exit goes off. Unable to identify the figure that is fleeing from the scene, Oscar and Hildegarde return to the basement, where Louise's burnt corpse is finally located. When Otto Schweitzer, the school's alcoholic janitor, who had threatened Louise with blackmail shortly before her murder, drunkenly exits the basement, he is arrested by Oscar. Not convinced of Otto's guilt, however, Hildegarde visits Jane Davis, Louise's roommate and Stevens' fiancée, who confesses that she and Louise had bought a winning lottery ticket together. Hildegarde also learns about Louise's missing love letters, which she eventually traces to MacFarland, the school's womanizing principal. Although MacFarland confesses to having had an affair with Louise, he insists that he lost interest in her after she dumped him for Stevens. As suspects accumulate, a forensics expert arrives with news that Louise had been dying of pernicious anemia. Oscar and Hildegarde then return to the basement, where, in the dark, someone throws a hatchet at the terrified schoolteacher. After they learn that Otto has escaped from prison, they are informed by Max, a pathologist, that Louise's anemia could have been caused by slow poisoning with benzine mixed in alcohol. At this point, Hildegarde convinces Oscar to announce in the newspapers that Donahue has recovered his memory and is able to identify his attacker. Hildegarde and Oscar plant themselves near Donahue's hospital bed and catch Stevens slipping poison into his water glass. Trapped, Stevens confesses that he killed Louise because she jilted him after marrying him in secret. Hildegarde then deciphers Louise's musical clue, which translates into the beginning letters of Stevens' first name.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Mystery
Release Date
Jun 15, 1934
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Murder on the Blackboard by Stuart Palmer (New York, 1932).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

Murder on the Blackboard


In her cinematic debut, schoolmarm-detective Hildegarde Withers solved The Penguin Pool Murder (1932) at the New York Aquarium. For the purposes of RKO Radio Pictures' follow-up, Murder on the Blackboard (1934), foul play would follow the third grade teacher home - or rather to work, and the halls of Manhattan's Jefferson Elementary School. The creation of mystery writer Stuart Palmer, the exacting and often exhausting Withers was the heroine of a baker's dozen whodunits published between 1931 and Palmer's death in 1968. A spinster sleuth on par with Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple and Patricia Wentworth's governess gumshoe Maud Silver, Withers was a natural for pictures, especially when played by Edna Mae Oliver, whose stamp on the character is considered definitive. As he had on the first film in the series, George Archainbaud returned as director, reuniting Oliver with onscreen partner James Gleason, as Inspector Oscar Piper; though the source novel had sidelined Piper with an injury, leaving Miss Withers to crack the case solo, screenwriter Willis Goldbeck wisely shifted the dummy hand to a supporting player to allow Withers and Piper to continue the repartee that was the series' long suit. With Oliver's abdication to Metro in 1936, the role of Hildegarde Withers passed first to Helen Broderick and then to Zasu Pitts for three more films before RKO retired the character. Thirty-five years later, Hildegarde Withers returned in the form of Eve Arden for the unsold ABC-TV pilot A Very Missing Person (1972).

By Richard Harland Smith
Murder On The Blackboard

Murder on the Blackboard

In her cinematic debut, schoolmarm-detective Hildegarde Withers solved The Penguin Pool Murder (1932) at the New York Aquarium. For the purposes of RKO Radio Pictures' follow-up, Murder on the Blackboard (1934), foul play would follow the third grade teacher home - or rather to work, and the halls of Manhattan's Jefferson Elementary School. The creation of mystery writer Stuart Palmer, the exacting and often exhausting Withers was the heroine of a baker's dozen whodunits published between 1931 and Palmer's death in 1968. A spinster sleuth on par with Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple and Patricia Wentworth's governess gumshoe Maud Silver, Withers was a natural for pictures, especially when played by Edna Mae Oliver, whose stamp on the character is considered definitive. As he had on the first film in the series, George Archainbaud returned as director, reuniting Oliver with onscreen partner James Gleason, as Inspector Oscar Piper; though the source novel had sidelined Piper with an injury, leaving Miss Withers to crack the case solo, screenwriter Willis Goldbeck wisely shifted the dummy hand to a supporting player to allow Withers and Piper to continue the repartee that was the series' long suit. With Oliver's abdication to Metro in 1936, the role of Hildegarde Withers passed first to Helen Broderick and then to Zasu Pitts for three more films before RKO retired the character. Thirty-five years later, Hildegarde Withers returned in the form of Eve Arden for the unsold ABC-TV pilot A Very Missing Person (1972). By Richard Harland Smith

Quotes

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

Trivia

Notes

Stuart Palmer's novel was first published in serial form in Mystery. Murder on the Blackboard was the second film in the Hildegarde Withers-Oscar Piper series. James Gleason, Edna May Oliver, director Archainbaud and writer Goldbeck also collaborated on the first film in the series, The Penguin Pool Murder (see listing below). For additional information on the series, consult the Series Index.