Movie Review: Murder on the Blackboard (1934)

Synopsis: When a teacher, Hildegarde Withers, discovers the dead body of one of her colleagues, she summons her friend, Inspector Oscar Piper, to help find the killer only to be the one who discovers the hidden message in the victim's musical clue.

Who's in it? The movie stars Edna May OliverJames GleasonBruce CabotGertrude Michael and Tully Marshall.


Review: I was in the mood for a murder mystery while waiting to go into work this morning. After searching through a list of options the night before, I came across this film and, thinking it sounded interesting, decided to check it out. As it turns out, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Being a father of two daughters, I have come to appreciate classic films that have strong female leads in them and this one, made pre-Hays Code, had a good one in Hildegarde Withers (Oliver). I loved how she asked for police assistance and then proceeded to find all the key clues while still letting the inspector (Gleason) think he was the one who was in charge.

I think this movie was meant to be a comedy but the jokes were a bit dated and honestly didn't really connect with me when I watched. However, I thought the mystery surrounding who killed the teacher (Barbara Fritchie) was a good one. She seemed to know someone was out to get her and even left the cryptic clue written on the blackboard but, other than that, it was unclear what motive that person had. Was it about the money she had won gambling? A romance gone bad? Or something else.

Putting Withers' own life on the line only added to the film, especially after a near-miss with a hatchet. Again, it was interesting watching her determined reaction to facing possible death when, in most classic films, the female lead likely would have had a meltdown or something. Heck, there are a lot of films today that don't even have female characters as strong as this one and that's a disappointment.

Final Opinion: This is an entertaining mystery with a likeable lead character and strong supporting cast. As I mentioned before, the jokes are a little dated and probably were funnier back when the movie was made than they are today. However, if you like a good murder mystery, it's a movie that is worth taking the time to watch.

My Grade: A-


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