Murder, He Says (1944)

“They don’t dare kill you the way they killed that other feller!”

Murder He Says Poster

Synopsis:
A pollster (Fred MacMurray) in search of a missing colleague stumbles upon a family of creepy hillbillies who will stop at nothing to learn the location of treasure hidden in their house.

Genres:

Review:
Several years after directing Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in the disappointing haunted house flick The Ghost Breakers (1940), George Marshall helmed this creatively zany riff on the genre, which features impressive special effects (see stills below), an enjoyably wacky storyline, quick pacing, and fine performances by the ensemble cast — including Fred MacMurray as the hapless protagonist; Marjorie Main as the murderous matriarch of the Fleagle clan; Helen Walker as “Bonnie Fleagle”; Peter Whitney (in a dual role) as a pair of pugilistic Fleagle twins; Jean Heather as the twins’ loopy, chant-singing sister; Porter Hall as Ma Fleagle’s most recent husband; and Mabel Paige as the clan’s senile “Grandma”. In his fun review of the movie, Dave Sindelar provides the following synopsis of its bizarre plot:

The movie features a hidden treasure, a whip-wielding Marjorie Main, poisoned and possibly radioactive water (it makes everything glow in the dark), two stupid twins (one with a crick in his back so you can tell them apart), a nonsense song that holds the key to the treasure, an escaped criminal, a woman disguising herself as an escaped criminal, an imaginary ghost named Smedley, a truck-powered hay machine, a “Lazy Susan” rotating table, poisoned gravy and Fred MacMurray.

To say much more about the plot would spoil the fun of watching it unfold; suffice it to say that — as Sindelar recommends — you should be in a “silly mood” before sitting down to enjoy this one.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fred MacMurray as Pete Marshall
    Murder He Says MacMurray
  • Fine supporting performances by the entire ensemble cast
    Murder He Says Main
  • Nifty special effects
    Murder He Says Lit Up
    Murder He Says Effects
  • A clever screenplay with many fun sequences
    Murder He Says Screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a cult film and an enjoyably zany riff on the “old dark house” genre.

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One Response to “Murder, He Says (1944)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    It’s very possible that this one is strictly a matter of taste – and I suppose there could be some entertainment found on a very very silly level. But I find it very disappointing that the scripts’s promising oddball premise is not allowed a satisfying follow-through in execution. No doubt I demand more from comedy than the obvious antics offered here. (Indeed, the film’s only strong point is the extended ‘Lazy Susan’ sequence – during which the cast seems to be having communal fun.)

    Not being an actor very schooled in comic timing and delivery, MacMurray registers as befuddled more than anything else. His long chat/fights with an imaginary ghost, therefore, come off as merely long. (Another stretch is the endlessly repeated nonsense song – which ultimately becomes annoying.)

    It’s certainly nice to see Walker in the proceedings, but her role is beneath her. The actors playing the Fleagles are fine but the script doesn’t really allow them to be memorably funny (tho Main expertly cracking a whip is a nice touch).

    The last ten minutes or so make for a rousing finish, but by then it’s really too little too late.

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