Murders In the Zoo (1933)
For what ever the reason I had never seen this Paramount entry into the macabre until recently. Surprising on one hand because I am such a huge fan of the Universal Studios stable of monster films but at the same time this film was hard to come by for years until the days of TCM so perhaps not too hard to imagine.
So here I am watching a film made 81 years ago and it still packs a punch. There was a scene in this that hit me BANG right between the eyes. I couldn’t believe what I just saw the deliciously demented Lionel Atwill commit on screen for a film made during this era. No, I’m not telling but if you’ve seen the film you’ll recall a late night rendezvous on a walking bridge. Atwill plays a big game hunter who supplies animals to the local zoo while at the same time has a streak of jealousy that is instant death to any man who happens to look in his wife’s direction. Right from the opening scene director Edward Sutherland pulls no punches by letting us view the depravity of Atwill’s wrath.
Portraying Lionel’s unfortunate wife is Kathleen Burke billed on original posters as The Panther Woman. This refers to her appearance in another notorious Paramount production from the previous year, Island of Lost Souls. Both films would have major problems with sensor boards and suffer out right bans in some countries. Although Atwill is the whole show here we also get an early look at Randolph Scott as a young lab/snake handler studying the effects of snake poisons as well as John Lodge as a would be suitor to Burke’s affections. Lodge is proof positive that Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first actor to go into politics. Lodge became the Governor of Connecticut in the fifties. Look fast for future Oscar winner Jane Darwell at a party scene and if you are into comedy relief then you’ll enjoy Charlie Ruggles as a drunken press agent. He has a great line after a snake gives him a nasty fright. “Is there a good laundry in this town?”
Future Oscar winner Ernest Haller was the cinematographer on this squeamish affair that should be seen if given the chance as it is a great companion piece to what Universal was doing to terrorize audiences across town with Boris and Bela at the time. Atwill made for a great villain and appeared in numerous genre films over the years including his wonderful turn as Inspector Krogh in the now classic Son of Frankenstein. But don’t think that he was all about horror. He could turn in a wonderfully tortured performance as he did opposite Dietrich in The Devil Is a Woman.
So take a trip to the Zoo if given a chance. Just watch out for the large …….. I can’t say as I don’t want to give it away.