Vintage Pulp Mar 31 2015
THE CRUEL ZOO
The only real murders committed may have been of the animals.


Murders in the Zoo is a brisk little sixty-two-minute thriller for which you see two excellent promos above. A dealer in large animals uses the menagerie he’s recently procured in Asia to dispose of his wife’s suitors. The cast is good, especially Kathleen Burke as the straying spouse. You’ll notice she’s called The Panther Woman on the posters. That’s a reference to her role as a woman bred from a panther in the previous year’s hit thriller Island of Lost Souls, and here she retains a hint of animal cunning that makes her the most watchable cast member. Other aspects of the film are less watchable. Zoos are sad affairs even today, but during the 1930s they were tawdry places rife with choke collars and tiny cages. Watching Murders in the Zoo explains why today’s productions have the American Humane Association on set defending the animals’ wellbeing. 

Late in the proceedings, the villain tries to facilitate his escape from justice by (spoiler alert) releasing all the big cats from their cages, triggering a feline free-for-all of slashing claws and gnashing fangs. This is no special effect, folks. The sequence is brief and uses footage from two angles to extend the running time, but still, injuries surely resulted. At the least, the leopard that was held down and gnawed on by a lion probably had PTSD until the end of its days. Sometimes we point out scenes in vintage cinema that fall into the could-not-be-filmed-today category, and usually those exemplify the visionary artistry of the past. What is mostly exemplified by Murders in the Zoo’s cat scrum is the cruelty of the human species. But from a purely cinematic perspective it’s a powerful scene, and indeed, the entire zoo setting heightens the overarching dread. As 1930s movies go, Murders in the Zoo is an excellent one. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 15
1944—Bandleader Glenn Miller Disappears
World famous big band leader Glenn Miller, who was flying from England to Paris in a small plane, disappears over the English Channel. One theory holds that his plane was knocked down by bombs jettisoned from bombers passing high above after an aborted raid on Germany, but no cause of his disappearance is officially listed, and no trace of Miller, the crew, or the plane is ever found.
1973—Getty Heir Found Alive
John Paul Getty III, grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, Italy, after being kidnapped by an Italian gang on July 10, 1973. The gang members had cut off his ear and mailed it to Getty III, but he otherwise is in good health.
December 14
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
December 13
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe.
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
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