Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Murder, He Says

One of the movies that I watched over the weekend while my home Internet connection was out is Murder, He Says. It's available on DVD, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie.

The movie starts off at a general store in what passes for Hollywood's stereotype of a small town in Appalachia or maybe the south. The sheriff is making a speech about the dangers of the Fleagles who live several miles outside of town, because the adult daughter in the family, Bonnie, has just broken out of prison where she had been doing a spell for bank robbery. Into all of this walks Pete Marshall (Fred MacMurray). He's a pollster for an organization doing research on the attitudes of rural Americans, and he's specifically come to this town to look for his colleague, since this was the colleague's last known location and the guy hasn't been seen or heard from for some time. There's reason to believe that the colleague wound up at the Fleagle place, so Pete heads there.

We fairly quickly learn why the Fleagles are people to avoid. When Pete arrives on the property, he gets chased by dogs, before eventually falling into a booby trap. One of the Fleagles takes him to the house, where he quickly learns that he wants to get away from the place. The Fleagles living in the house now, however, are not Bonnie's parents and siblings, but her cousins. There's Mamie (Marjorie Main), on her third husband, Mr. Johnson (Porter Hall); her twin sons Mert and Bert (both played by Peter Whitney); and her mentally slow daughter Elany (Jean Heather). They are there because they're convinced that the money that Bonnie stole is somewhere on the property, and they perceive outsiders as a threat to them. Also in the house is Grandma (Mabel Paige), who knows that this branch of the Fleagle family tree is up to no good, and knows that they've poisoned her: she literally glows in the dark. But the Fleagles use Pete to try to get information from Grandma, and she gives him a tough-to-decipher clue of a sampler and a song with wacky lyrics.

Things get more complicated when Bonnie shows up. Only, it's not actually Bonnie, something you'd think the Fleagles would recognize. Instead, it's the daughter of a man who was fired for the bank robbery, and this woman (Helen Walker) wants to find the money to redeem her father. She convinces Pete to stay at the place and try to help her find the money, despite the danger that awaits both of them.

Murder, He Says is a comedy, however, so all of the seemingly dark plot is in fact handled quite lightly. MacMurray would of course become well-known for the TV show My Three Sons as well as those Disney comedies in the 1960s, but this movie was released in 1945, at a time when MacMurray was doing all sorts of movies. He's more than capable of handling this material. He presents a good contrast to the ruralites, who are well played by Marjorie Main and Porter Hall. This was a year or two before The Egg and I introduced movie viewers to Ma Kettle, the role with which Main is probably best known. She's clearly the villainess here, but she's still portrayed lightly. The sight gags involving the twins are good, but there's an even better one involving a meal that's meant to poison Pete. He realized the food is poisond, and Johnson invented a lazy-Susan dinner table, so that gets put to good use.

All in all, Murder, He Says is enjoyable light entertainment and more than worth a watch if it shows up on TV. You may find the DVD a bit pricey, however.

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