Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Not really a forgotten movie because it's being shown today on Turner Movie Classics at 1:00 p.m. EDT, but if you are reading this after that time, maybe it is forgotten after all.

     Forty Naughty Girls (1937) is a Hildegarde Withers mystery, based on the character created by Stuart Palmer.  Withers was (and if there is any justice in this world, still is) a popular character in 1940's and 1950's mystery novels, a nosy spinster schoolteacher who was the bane of Police Inspector Oscar Piper's life.

    Since I will not have seen the film until after 1:00 today, let's let IMDB explain the basic plot for us:  "Police Inspector Oscar Piper and Hildegarde Withers attend the opening night of a Broadway play in New York City," [where else? - JH] "and the show's press agent is murdered before the curtain goes up.  But the show must go on while Piper is busily investigating the killing while the play goes on, the play's librettist is shot.  Piper and Withers are in and out of dressing rooms, in audience cubicles belonging to the producer and the press agent, and in the basement storeroom and far stage left and right working on finding the killer before the curtain draws."  The movis clocks in at 63 minutes.

     For what it's worth, according to Leonard Maltin, Forty Naughty Girls " just plain awful."  For that accolade alone, it's a gotta see.

     This time around Withers is played by Zasu Pitts while thin, mustached James Gregory plays Inspector Piper as usual.  Marjorie Lord (The Danny Thomas Show) appears as Jane Preston.  The rest of the cast includes George Shelley (Bert), Joan Woodbury (Rita Marlowe), Frank M. Thomas (Jeff "Pop" Plumber), Tom Kennedy (Casy), Alan Edwards (Ricky Rickman), Alden chase (Tommy Washburn), Edward Marr (Windy Bennett), Ada Leonard (Lil), Barbara Pepper (Alice), and Donald Kerr (Call Boy -- a role he may not want to have on his resume).

    This beauty was directed by Edward Cline, who came up through the ranks from Mack Sennett comedies and directed a number of minor and sub-minor films.  Screen writer John Grey adapted this one from Palmer's short story "The Riddle of the Forty Naughty Girls."  According to IMDB, Grey had 32 credits from 1934-1952, half of which were short features.  (One of his credits, Private Snuffy Smith, based on the Barney Google comic strip character, is worthy of a Forgotten Film entry of its own.)  Grey capped out his career with three episodes of Sky King.  (Apropos of nothing, Gloria Winters, who played Penny in that series, died last August at 78.  How could one of my childhood crushes be that old?)

     Eight movies were made about Hildegarde Withers.  Edna May Oliver took the lead role in the first three:  The Penguin Pool Murder (1932), Murder on the Blackboard (1934), and Murder on a Honeymoon (1935).  Helen Broderick did the honors in Murder on a Bridle Path (1936), after which Zasu Pitts did two turns:  The Plot Thickens (1936) and the film under discussion.  In 1950, Hildegarde Withers was renamed (but not Craig Rice's John J. Malone) in Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone (1950, from a short story by Palmer and Rice).  In 1972, Eve Arden starred in a television movie, A Very Missing Person.

      Palmer also has a number of screenwriting credits, many of which are of passing interest:  One Frightened Night, The Nitwits, Yellowstone, Hollywood Stadium Mystery, Bulldog Drummond's Peril, Arrest Bulldog Drummond, Bulldog Drummond's Bride, Death of a Champion, Emergency Squad, Seventeen, Opened by Mistake, Who Killed Aunt Maggie?, "The Smiling Ghost", Secrets of the Lone Wolf, Pardon My Stripes, Home in Wyomin', Halfway to Shanghai, The Falcon's Brother, X Marks the Spot, The Falcon Strikes Back, Murder in Times Square, Petticoat Larceny, Step by Step, and one episode of The Millionaire.  All sound like good Saturday afternoon watchingOr, you could pick up an old Stuart Palmer mystery.  That's entertainment.


     Stop by Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom today for a continuing updated and always fascinating list of today's Forgotten Films. 


  1. Were any of them supposed to be good? Maybe it's the worst series of films ever made. I love Zasu Pitts.

  2. I liked The Penguin Pool Murder. Didn't care for Murder on a Honeymoon. Murder on the Blackboard kind of fell in between the two. My jaw dropped in stunned amazement with Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone. I have a vague memory that I may have seen the Eve Arden television movie, but then again I have a vague memory of fighting at the Battle of Bull Run, so I may have not seen it.

    I've DVRed this movie and will probably catch it this weekend. Like Palmer's bulldog Drummond, Lone Wolf, and Falcon movies, these were good Saturday afternoon B films.