Trotter pollster Pete Marshall is trying to find a missing coworker. In a rural town he stumbles onto the roughian Fleagle family. Bert and Mert would just as soon “splatter” snoopers with their rifles. However, Ma Johnson focuses the family energies on finding cousin Bonnie Fleagle’s $70,000 bank job stash, somewhere around the large old rickety house. Claire Matthews, the daughter of a man implicated in Bonnie’s bank job, also comes in search of the money to try and clear her father’s name. Marshall and Matthews team up to try and decode Grandma Fleagle’s strange deathbed clue but with Mr. Johnson attempting to poison people and Bonnie Fleagle showing up herself after a prison escape, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will find the money first.
Gary Jackson <[email protected]>
User Reviews: I had always wanted to check out this black comedy a rare thing for Hollywood during this era (off-hand, the only other one I can recall is ARSENIC AND OLD LACE ). However, it’s never been available to me until now so that, in compiling a list of lightweight titles I most wanted to watch throughout the Christmas season, it’s no surprise the film ended up at the top of the list. Even so, this has more of a cult than classic reputation but it was certainly a delight: incidentally, while I’m usually somewhat queasy watching movies centering around hillbillies, their inherent eccentric nature works perfectly within the context of MURDER, HE SAYS’ bizarre plot.
By the way, the greedy/homicidal-family-after-a-sum-of-money involved harks back to the popular ‘old dark house’-type comedy-thrillers which undoubtedly gives the whole added appeal. With this in mind, the location of the loot being hidden within the nonsensical verses of an old ditty is a much-used device in this kind of picture as is the presence in the house of both a secret passageway and a mysterious assailant (whose identity actually isn’t hard to guess). Similarly, the fact that the moribund crone (justifiably) suspects her relatives’ motives and opts to confide in a stranger is particularly reminiscent of the wonderful Sir Roderick Femm scene in my favorite subgenre entry the appropriately-titled THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932).
That said, the original elements here are no less engaging with the unlikely albeit effectively-handled ‘glowing poison’ expedient a recurring motif (which reaches its zenith in the hilarious dinner sequence around an inconveniently revolving table). The most side-splitting visual gags, then, both feature bodily contortions: the hero being tied up in a most awkward position to be grilled by the Fleagles and his own later pretense as a midget in order to conceal one of their two identical sons lying unconscious at his real feet! For the record, there’s even an amusing in-joke in the film’s reference to THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) the marvelous Bob Hope comedy-horror vehicle, also made by director Marshall at Paramount!
Fred MacMurray makes for an ideal lead suitably bewildered and out-of-his-depth at first, but who eventually contrives to outwit the crazy clan by employing his ‘superior’ city-slicker ways. Apart from a whip-cracking Marjorie Main (perhaps the quintessential female hick) and mad scientist(!) Porter Hall as the respective heads of the backwoods brood, the remaining cast members were unknown to me though all enter gleefully into the offbeat spirit of the thing. The twins were obviously played by the same actor and, unsurprisingly, leading lady Helen Walker turns out not to be vicious/demented after all (since she’s only impersonating a convicted member of the dysfunctional family, with the real character herself surfacing towards the end).
Maintaining a frenzied pitch virtually for the entire duration (leading to an extended chase finale that’s capped by an inventive come-uppance for practically the entire main cast) makes the film seem longer than its 94 minutes but it’s an inspired ride all the way, and great fun to boot. The quality of the copy I acquired (derived from VHS) isn’t optimal if still quite passable under the circumstances at least until Universal (who now owns the film) sees fit to give it a decent and much-deserved release on DVD. I guess HD-DVD is out-of-the-question for such an obscure little item and, in any case, I’m not yet willing to give in to the format just yet owing to the undue hassle and expense this would clearly entail!