Lionel Atwill and Kathleen Burke in Murders in the Zoo (1933)


(director: Edward Sutherland; screenwriters: Seton Miller/Philip Wylie; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; cast: Charlie Ruggles (Peter Yates, Zoo Press Agent), Lionel Atwill (Eric Gorman, Zoologist), Gail Patrick (Jerry Evans), Randolph Scott (Dr. Woodford, Zoo Toxicologist), John Lodge (Roger Hewitt), Kathleen Burke (Evelyn Gorman), Harry Beresford (Professor Evans, Zoo Curator); Runtime: 64; Paramount; 1933)

“A very funny, but also a very chilling macabre tale about an insanely jealous zoologist.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A very funny, but also a very chilling macabre tale about an insanely jealous zoologist. The brilliant opening scene set in India has Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) sewing up the mouth of a man who kissed his wife and leaving him to be devoured in the jungle by the wildlife. When the zoologist’s wife, Evelyn (Burke), acts concerned about the missing man, she’s told by her hubby Eric that he went out alone. That brings on this classic conversation. Evelyn: “What did he say?” Eric: “He didn’t say anything.”

Heading back to the States aboard a ship with his latest animal collection Eric, the millionaire sportsman, spots his attractive wife with another suitor, the wealthy and handsome Roger Hewitt (John Lodge). It now becomes a matter of what method he will use to dispose of Roger.

Eric’s wild animals are headed for the municipal zoo, which is having a hard time operating because its budget has been slashed. The zoo’s curator, Professor Evans (Beresford), hires a press agent, Peter Yates (Ruggles), to help get good publicity for the zoo. Yates is a drunk and a bumbler but goes on the wagon for this job, as the former newspaper man takes his new postion seriously. His first assignment is to meet Gorman on the incoming ship and interview him. He will come up with an idea of having a fund-raising dinner at the zoo among the caged animals to help the zoo raise some immediate cash through donations.

The curator’s daughter, Jerry (Gail Patrick), works in the zoo’s lab and is in love with the earnest zoo toxicologist, Dr. Woodford (Scott). They are concerned that the zoo will lose its funding and they won’t be able to afford to get married.

At the zoo fund-raising dinner, Eric sits opposite Roger and dispatches his wife’s lover by using the severed head of a poisonous green mamba snake. But Eric’s wife suspects him of killing Roger and later on back in their residence finds the snake’s head in his desk. When she takes it to Dr. Woodford for evidence, Eric sneakily follows her there. But before she reaches the doctor, Eric unceremoniously dumps her body in the zoo’s alligator pit.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

The grand climax has Eric trapped in the zoo with the police chasing him. He frees the wild animals from their cages but mistakenly hides in the cage of a boa constrictor, who crushes him to death.

The film would have been wiser to steer clear of Ruggles attempts at comedy relief and follow-up on the bizarre behavior of Atwill who seems to get such a charge out of loving his wife, even though he knows she hates him.