Murder, He Says


1h 31m 1945
Murder, He Says

Brief Synopsis

A pollster stumbles on a family of small-town killers.

Photos & Videos

Murder, He Says - Lobby Cards
Murder, He Says - Publicity Stills
Murder, He Says - Scene Stills

Film Details

Also Known As
Murder Farm
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Jun 8, 1945
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,472ft

Synopsis

Public opinion surveyor, or "Trotter" man, Pete Marshall arrives in Plainville, a town in the mountain district, to replace fellow Trotter man Hector P. Smedley, who disappeared after visiting the Fleagles, a family of gun-toting hillbilly outlaws. Upon entering the dilapidated house, Pete realizes that the crazy family has killed Smedley. Mother Mamie Fleagle Smithers Johnson, who goes by her third husband's name, rules her dim-witted grown twin boys, Mert and Bert, with a bullwhip, and orders Pete to pose for Grandma Fleagle as the "feller" of jailed robber Bonnie Fleagle. Grandma is dying of a poison that makes her glow in the dark, which was administered by Mamie's family, who are Fleagles by name only and are after Bonnie's $70,000 bank loot. Mamie hopes that Grandma will give Pete a clue to the whereabouts of the money. Before she dies, Grandma gives Pete a cross-stitched sampler on which is stitched a line of music to a nonsense song: "Flizon horzis, Beezin komzis, Onches nobis, Inob keezis." Claire Mathews, whose banker father has been linked to the robbery, poses as the escaped Bonnie and arrives at the Fleagles' to find the money in order to exonerate her father. The Fleagles try to poison her at dinner, but when the lights go out, all the plates are glowing except that of Mr. Johnson, Mamie's third husband, an eccentric scientist who developed the radioactive poison. Johnson disappears and is found dead. Meanwhile, Elany Fleagle, Mamie's lunatic young daughter, repeatedly sings the doggerel verses on the sampler, and a mysterious man who lurks in the shadows, whom she thinks is a ghost, frightens her into repeating the lyrics for his transcription. Claire locates Elany's room through a secret passageway and scares away the ghost, then finds the lyrics. The real Bonnie Fleagle arrives, after breaking out of jail, armed and determined to find the money. She decodes the first two lines with Pete's help, and later, Pete and Claire solve the rest of the riddle, which indicates a nob on a chest that contains a key to a safety deposit box. Claire and Pete get the key, and after a chase around the house, they are trapped in the hay barn by Bonnie, Mamie, Mert and Bert. They manage, however, to trap each in a bale of hay using a hay compression machine. Mr. Johnson, who is not dead, enters, and Elany, fearing he is the ghost who tortured her, pushes him also into the compression machine. Pete and Claire fall into the hay and emerge on the conveyor belt embracing in a bale of hay as the sheriff arrives.

Photo Collections

Murder, He Says - Lobby Cards
Here are a few lobby cards from Paramount's Murder, He Says (1945), starring Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Murder, He Says - Publicity Stills
Here are a few stills taken to help publicize Paramount Pictures' Murder, He Says (1945), starring Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, and Marjorie Main. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Murder, He Says - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Paramount Pictures' Murder, He Says (1945), starring Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, and Marjorie Main.
Murder, He Says - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-relese movie posters from Paramount's Murder, he Says (1945), starring Fred MacMurray and Marjorie Main.

Film Details

Also Known As
Murder Farm
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Jun 8, 1945
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,472ft

Articles

Murder, He Says


Synopsis: Pete Marshall is a pollster sent into the countryside to find Smedley, a colleague who has vanished without a trace. Marshall inadvertently stumbles upon Smedley's killers, the outlaw Fleagle family, who are holed up in their relatives' house in the hope of convincing Grandma Fleagle to divulge the location of $70,000, which the notorious criminal Bonnie Fleagle hid before landing in jail. Pete Marshall evades the family's constant attempts to bump him off, but further complications ensue when a young woman posing as Bonnie Fleagle arrives at the door.

Murder, He Says (1945) is an infrequently seen but very funny dark comedy set in a remote mountain community, clearly intended to represent the Ozarks. (The director and producer George Marshall went so far as to make the cast study recordings of native Arkansas speakers to guide their accents.) The film is partly a send-up of films about the South such as John Ford's Tobacco Road (1941), and partly a hillbilly-inflected parody of the Gothic horror genre, complete with a ramshackle secret passageway and a sinister figure peering at the characters through peepholes. At the same time, Murder, He Says works as an outright slapstick farce, especially during the cleverly staged climax in which various characters chase each other in the house's large basement. Another effective element is the convincing optical effects for the scenes where Peter Whitney plays the twins Mert and Bert; indeed, the effects still look better here than in many more recent Hollywood films with the same "identical twins" gimmick.

Chicago-born George Marshall (1891-1975) had one of the longest careers of any major Hollywood director; his films spanned more than fifty years from his first short Westerns in 1915-1916 to his last feature, the Jerry Lewis comedy Hook, Line and Sinker (1969). Marshall arrived in Hollywood in 1912 and quickly worked in a range of capacities from bit players to prop man, editor, script writer and cameraman before going on to direct feature films. After serving in World War I, he returned to Hollywood and directed a large number of shorts, including the Bobby Jones golfing comedies. He returned to feature film production only in 1932. Already a well-established comic director, Marshall began to introduce comedy -- and even elements of parody -- into his genre films starting with Destry Rides Again (1939). The Bob Hope vehicle The Ghost Breakers (1940) similarly sent up the Gothic genre and remains one of the more successful horror comedies alongside Murder, He Says. Marshall's taste in black humor extended to a "Blue Dahlia"-themed party that he threw for a group of mystery writers in 1946 at the restaurant Lucey's, shortly after the opening of his classic noir film by the same title. When the lights went out, the chef was found "dead" on the table, and the writers all had to come up with an explanation of how he was murdered.

Marjorie Main gives one of her more memorable performances as Mamie, the horsewhip-snapping, murderous matriarch who is on her third husband. In many ways, her performance here sets the stage for her Oscar®-nominated role in The Egg and I (1947). The same year that Murder, He Says was released, the 96th Infantry Division awarded Marjorie Main the title "Occupation Girl," dubbing her "a rough girl for a rough division." According to Michelle Vogel, author of a recent biography of Marjorie Main, one sergeant in the division wrote her a letter declaring, "With a shotgun in one hand and a horsewhip in the other, you are truly the epitome of all that the 96th Division has accomplished." The following year, Main traveled up to San Francisco to greet the Division when it docked. In the spirit of her award, she wore a cowgirl outfit and carried a gun and whip. However, Murder, He Says is a true ensemble piece: in addition to Fred MacMurray's excellent comic lead, one would be remiss in failing to acknowledge the considerable contributions of Porter Hall as Mamie's third husband, the conniving Mr. Johnson, Jean Heather as the Ophelia-like mad cousin Elany, and Peter Whitney as the bumbling twins Mert and Bert.

During the film's initial release, the reviewer for the New York Times didn't quite know what to make of its black comedy, calling it a "farce melodrama" and titling the review rather ungenerously as "The Lowest Depths." The reviewer for Variety gave it even more of a mixed evaluation, writing: "Laughs clock heavily and pace moves so quickly audiences won't have a chance to discover it is a lot to-do about nothing and thinly premised until it's well over." Today, many critics regard it as one of George Marshall's strongest comedies and in general one of the better comedies of the era.

Producer and Director: George Marshall
Associate Producer: E. D. Leshin
Screenplay: Lou Breslow, based on a story by Jack Moffitt
Director of Photography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and William Flannery
Film Editor: LeRoy Stone
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Costumes: Mary Kay Dodson
Cast: Fred MacMurray (Pete Marshall); Helen Walker (Claire Matthews); Marjorie Main (Mamie Fleagle Smithers Johnson); Jean Heather (Elany Fleagle); Porter Hall (Mr. Johnson); Peter Whitney (Mert Fleagle/Bert Fleagle); Mabel Paige (Grandma Fleagle); Barbara Pepper (Bonnie Fleagle); Tom Fadden (Ben Murdock); Walter Baldwin (Vic Hardy); George McKay (Phil Grady); Joel Friedkin (Tunk Thorsen).
BW-87m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.

by James Steffen

Sources:
Review of Murder He Says. Variety, April 11, 1945.
"The Lowest Depths." (Review of Murder He Says.) New York Times, June 25, 1945, p.20.
Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood." Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1946, p. A2.
Vogel, Michelle. Marjorie Main: the life and films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle." Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006.

Murder, He Says

Murder, He Says

Synopsis: Pete Marshall is a pollster sent into the countryside to find Smedley, a colleague who has vanished without a trace. Marshall inadvertently stumbles upon Smedley's killers, the outlaw Fleagle family, who are holed up in their relatives' house in the hope of convincing Grandma Fleagle to divulge the location of $70,000, which the notorious criminal Bonnie Fleagle hid before landing in jail. Pete Marshall evades the family's constant attempts to bump him off, but further complications ensue when a young woman posing as Bonnie Fleagle arrives at the door. Murder, He Says (1945) is an infrequently seen but very funny dark comedy set in a remote mountain community, clearly intended to represent the Ozarks. (The director and producer George Marshall went so far as to make the cast study recordings of native Arkansas speakers to guide their accents.) The film is partly a send-up of films about the South such as John Ford's Tobacco Road (1941), and partly a hillbilly-inflected parody of the Gothic horror genre, complete with a ramshackle secret passageway and a sinister figure peering at the characters through peepholes. At the same time, Murder, He Says works as an outright slapstick farce, especially during the cleverly staged climax in which various characters chase each other in the house's large basement. Another effective element is the convincing optical effects for the scenes where Peter Whitney plays the twins Mert and Bert; indeed, the effects still look better here than in many more recent Hollywood films with the same "identical twins" gimmick. Chicago-born George Marshall (1891-1975) had one of the longest careers of any major Hollywood director; his films spanned more than fifty years from his first short Westerns in 1915-1916 to his last feature, the Jerry Lewis comedy Hook, Line and Sinker (1969). Marshall arrived in Hollywood in 1912 and quickly worked in a range of capacities from bit players to prop man, editor, script writer and cameraman before going on to direct feature films. After serving in World War I, he returned to Hollywood and directed a large number of shorts, including the Bobby Jones golfing comedies. He returned to feature film production only in 1932. Already a well-established comic director, Marshall began to introduce comedy -- and even elements of parody -- into his genre films starting with Destry Rides Again (1939). The Bob Hope vehicle The Ghost Breakers (1940) similarly sent up the Gothic genre and remains one of the more successful horror comedies alongside Murder, He Says. Marshall's taste in black humor extended to a "Blue Dahlia"-themed party that he threw for a group of mystery writers in 1946 at the restaurant Lucey's, shortly after the opening of his classic noir film by the same title. When the lights went out, the chef was found "dead" on the table, and the writers all had to come up with an explanation of how he was murdered. Marjorie Main gives one of her more memorable performances as Mamie, the horsewhip-snapping, murderous matriarch who is on her third husband. In many ways, her performance here sets the stage for her Oscar®-nominated role in The Egg and I (1947). The same year that Murder, He Says was released, the 96th Infantry Division awarded Marjorie Main the title "Occupation Girl," dubbing her "a rough girl for a rough division." According to Michelle Vogel, author of a recent biography of Marjorie Main, one sergeant in the division wrote her a letter declaring, "With a shotgun in one hand and a horsewhip in the other, you are truly the epitome of all that the 96th Division has accomplished." The following year, Main traveled up to San Francisco to greet the Division when it docked. In the spirit of her award, she wore a cowgirl outfit and carried a gun and whip. However, Murder, He Says is a true ensemble piece: in addition to Fred MacMurray's excellent comic lead, one would be remiss in failing to acknowledge the considerable contributions of Porter Hall as Mamie's third husband, the conniving Mr. Johnson, Jean Heather as the Ophelia-like mad cousin Elany, and Peter Whitney as the bumbling twins Mert and Bert. During the film's initial release, the reviewer for the New York Times didn't quite know what to make of its black comedy, calling it a "farce melodrama" and titling the review rather ungenerously as "The Lowest Depths." The reviewer for Variety gave it even more of a mixed evaluation, writing: "Laughs clock heavily and pace moves so quickly audiences won't have a chance to discover it is a lot to-do about nothing and thinly premised until it's well over." Today, many critics regard it as one of George Marshall's strongest comedies and in general one of the better comedies of the era. Producer and Director: George Marshall Associate Producer: E. D. Leshin Screenplay: Lou Breslow, based on a story by Jack Moffitt Director of Photography: Theodor Sparkuhl Art Direction: Hans Dreier and William Flannery Film Editor: LeRoy Stone Music: Robert Emmett Dolan Costumes: Mary Kay Dodson Cast: Fred MacMurray (Pete Marshall); Helen Walker (Claire Matthews); Marjorie Main (Mamie Fleagle Smithers Johnson); Jean Heather (Elany Fleagle); Porter Hall (Mr. Johnson); Peter Whitney (Mert Fleagle/Bert Fleagle); Mabel Paige (Grandma Fleagle); Barbara Pepper (Bonnie Fleagle); Tom Fadden (Ben Murdock); Walter Baldwin (Vic Hardy); George McKay (Phil Grady); Joel Friedkin (Tunk Thorsen). BW-87m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video. by James Steffen Sources: Review of Murder He Says. Variety, April 11, 1945. "The Lowest Depths." (Review of Murder He Says.) New York Times, June 25, 1945, p.20. Hopper, Hedda. "Looking at Hollywood." Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1946, p. A2. Vogel, Michelle. Marjorie Main: the life and films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle." Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006.

Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' - Murder, He Says & Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' - Double Feature on DVD


The famous 1935 Variety headline "STICKS NIX HICK PIX" certainly didn't indicate any permanent trend, because movies set among bucolic bumpkins remained firm on studio production schedules. Cornpone yodeler Judy Canova carried the flag during the war years, until Universal stumbled onto a formula with their 1947 The Egg and Eye. That hit popularized actors Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as a hayseed team known as Ma & Pa Kettle. TCM's new double bill DVD of Murder, He Says and Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' presents two "Hick Pix" variants, one an oddball comedy about haunted hillbillies and another a musical about a crazy competition between frontier towns. The common denominator is the formidable Marjorie Main in her role as the requisite overbearing backwoods woman, wearing the pants and cracking a whip.

1945's Murder, He Says has gathered a reputation as a precocious and often hilarious black comedy that transplants the daffy spirit of old James Whale horror films into the hillbilly genre. Whale's The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man also function as the kind of macabre comedies that Charles Addams would have enjoyed. Paramount found success with a pair of haunted house pictures for Bob Hope, but this show stars the versatile Fred MacMurray, who had distinguished himself in light comedies and recently proved his dramatic chops in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. With future film noir fixture Helen Walker as a mysterious leading lady and MacMurray's Indemnity alumni Porter Hall and Jean Heather creeping through hidden passageways, Murder, He Says has plenty of familiar faces.

Pollster Hector P. Smedley has disappeared in the backwoods, and his backup Pete Marshall (MacMurray) is dispatched to find him. Even the locals stay clear of the murderous Fleagles, but Pete breezes right in to their run-down crazy house, far beyond the reach of the law. Each of the Fleagles is insane, in a different way. Twin yahoos Mert and Bert (Peter Whitney) threaten to blow Pete in two with a shotgun, while the beautiful but wild-eyed Elany (Jean Heather) wanders the halls in a trance. Eccentric Mr. Johnson (Porter Hall) has a habit of disappearing behind secret doors. Matriarch Mamie Fleagle keeps Pete alive because he might be able to convince senile Grandma (Mabel Paige) to divulge the whereabouts of the loot stolen by Bonnie Fleagle, now residing in prison. Grandma trusts Pete more than her own venal kinfolk and gives him a clue -- a song melody. The treasure hunt is interrupted by the arrival of the pistol-packing bandit Bonnie -- who is really the romantic Claire Matthews (Helen Walker), just pretending to be tough to keep the Fleagles at bay and grab the loot for herself.

Murder, He Says is an unbroken series of word games, crazy killers, slapstick chases and death threats, all of which Fred MacMurray reacts to with cheerful aplomb. MacMurray's easygoing attitude gives the film's collection of weird events a dreamlike quality that Luis Buñuel might have admired. Escaping from the shotgun-toting Mert and Bert, Pete hitches a ride in a truck, which takes him right back to the hillbilly death house. A glowing ghost in the night turns out to be one of the Fleagle's hounds, covered with a luminous toxin. A subsequent murder attempt involves a bowl of soup laced with this poison. With all the bowls spinning around the table on a lazy-Susan device, nobody knows who has sipped a lethal dose until yet another victim begins glowing like a monster from a Universal horror film.

The supporting cast has a grand time with their wacky characters. Marjorie Main's domineering Mamie and Porter Hall's conniving madman are little gems of performance, and the unheralded Peter Whitney is fine in as twin oafs, only one of which can be immobilized by a fast slam to an Achilles-like crick in his back. The special effects that show the actor playing against himself, often in the same frame, are completely convincing.

In a fetching Daisy Mae hairstyle, pretty Helen Walker comes off as a much softer presence than her icy schemer in the celebrated Nightmare Alley. She makes for a sexy Bonnie Parker type, ordering the Fleagles about at the point of a gun until the real gangster dame (feisty Barbara Pepper) shows up. Murder, He Says maintains a giddy, very non-Hollywood sense of imbalance right through the silly ending where all the villains tumble into a hay baler -- the movie winds up as we imagine Preston Sturges' imaginary rural romp "Hey Hey in the Hayloft" might. Either that, or the movie will remind modern audiences of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, another tale of degenerate yahoos running a rural death trap. At the jolly finish of Murder, He Says, the luckless first victim of the deadly Fleagles has been entirely forgotten.

Always a popular performer, ace dancer Donald O'Connor achieved immortality as Gene Kelly's hoofing sidekick in Singin' in the Rain but earned his bread and butter in a series of less prestigious but always entertaining musical vehicles. One of these is 1948's Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', a budget minded Universal effort that affords O'Connor three pleasant song 'n' dance numbers, and leaves the rest of the movie to whatever resources are available on the Universal lot. Although technically taking place in the Old West, the show earns its Hick Pix credentials with the presence of Marjorie Main as yet another sentimental rural battleaxe. She is paired with Percy Kilbride for the first time since The Egg and I: their official Ma and Pa Kettle series was still in the planning stages.

The story makes use of Universal's western back lot, minimizing the need for budget items like horses and guns. Salesman Wilbur McMurty (O'Connor) breezes into Rimrock, a tiny town engaged in a bitter competition with neighboring Big Bend. Rimrock needs a champion runner to go up against Big Bend's burly blacksmith. With Rimrock mortgaged to the hilt, mayor Maribel Mathews (Marjorie Main) has bet most of the town's money on the race and must somehow come up with a winning candidate. Seeing Wilbur sprint after a departing stagecoach, she has sheriff Sharkey (sometime Stooge Joe Besser) lock the salesman in the livery stable, where his only company until he agrees to race will be his own shadow. This cues a clever dance number set to Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer's "Me and My Shadow"; O'Connor does his patented dance move in which he runs up a wall and flips backwards onto his feet. When Wilbur gets a look at Maribel's beautiful daughter Libby (Penny Edwards), he finds the motivation to compete in good faith. That is, if he gets a chance: the heavy wagers between Rimrock and Big Bend have upped the incentive to cheat.

Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' is a middling star vehicle that barely does service to the talented Donald O'Connor, who would nevertheless keep making similar movies for the next ten years. Screenwriter D.D. Beauchamp does his best to enliven the generic proceedings that climax in a slapstick footrace through Universal's back lot acreage. Wilbur has been tricked into staying up all night walking a sick horse and can barely stay awake for the race. The humor is on the silly side, as when Wilbur repeatedly falls in a brook and is washed downstream, each time emerging from the water with a larger fish in his hands. Earlier on, the screenwriter squeezes some mileage from the idea that Wilbur is being treated and trained like a racehorse. Maribel and her beau, the somewhat passive Billy Caswell (Percy Kilbride) make Wilbur trot in a circle, and the veterinarian checks his fitness by examining his teeth.

In time-honored comedy fashion, Wilbur is too bashful to declare his love to Penny and instead directs his words through a friendly horse. For viewers familiar with O'Connor's Francis the Talking Mule comedy series, these scenes almost seem prophetic. Watch out Donald! When the animals start talking back you'll be sharing marquee space with a long-eared co-star.

Cute Penny Edwards has plenty of dancing talent but was soon working in low profile westerns. The film directs more of its attention at the Marjorie Main / Percy Kilbride relationship. The outspoken Maribel uses the quiet Billy as a floor mat and claims that she won't remarry until she finds a man strong enough to order her about. In keeping with postwar gender politics, Billy Caswell wins his mate by showing her who's boss -- and depriving her of her job as mayor.

The TCM Vault Collection's Double Bill DVD of Murder, He Says and Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' is an interesting comedy pairing. The rich transfer of Murder, originally a Paramount release, flatters Theodor Sparkuhl's deep blacks - almost all of the movie takes place at night. The Universal-International programmer Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' doesn't fare as well. The source appears light and soft, and is probably from a surviving 16mm element. A few scratches also intrude, but the film is intact and the audio clear.

The features come on separate discs. TCM has augmented them with galleries of stills & artwork, and informative essays culled from the research database of the TCM website.

For more information about Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', visit TCM Vault Collection. To order Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' - Murder, He Says & Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' - Double Feature on DVD

The famous 1935 Variety headline "STICKS NIX HICK PIX" certainly didn't indicate any permanent trend, because movies set among bucolic bumpkins remained firm on studio production schedules. Cornpone yodeler Judy Canova carried the flag during the war years, until Universal stumbled onto a formula with their 1947 The Egg and Eye. That hit popularized actors Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as a hayseed team known as Ma & Pa Kettle. TCM's new double bill DVD of Murder, He Says and Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' presents two "Hick Pix" variants, one an oddball comedy about haunted hillbillies and another a musical about a crazy competition between frontier towns. The common denominator is the formidable Marjorie Main in her role as the requisite overbearing backwoods woman, wearing the pants and cracking a whip. 1945's Murder, He Says has gathered a reputation as a precocious and often hilarious black comedy that transplants the daffy spirit of old James Whale horror films into the hillbilly genre. Whale's The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man also function as the kind of macabre comedies that Charles Addams would have enjoyed. Paramount found success with a pair of haunted house pictures for Bob Hope, but this show stars the versatile Fred MacMurray, who had distinguished himself in light comedies and recently proved his dramatic chops in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. With future film noir fixture Helen Walker as a mysterious leading lady and MacMurray's Indemnity alumni Porter Hall and Jean Heather creeping through hidden passageways, Murder, He Says has plenty of familiar faces. Pollster Hector P. Smedley has disappeared in the backwoods, and his backup Pete Marshall (MacMurray) is dispatched to find him. Even the locals stay clear of the murderous Fleagles, but Pete breezes right in to their run-down crazy house, far beyond the reach of the law. Each of the Fleagles is insane, in a different way. Twin yahoos Mert and Bert (Peter Whitney) threaten to blow Pete in two with a shotgun, while the beautiful but wild-eyed Elany (Jean Heather) wanders the halls in a trance. Eccentric Mr. Johnson (Porter Hall) has a habit of disappearing behind secret doors. Matriarch Mamie Fleagle keeps Pete alive because he might be able to convince senile Grandma (Mabel Paige) to divulge the whereabouts of the loot stolen by Bonnie Fleagle, now residing in prison. Grandma trusts Pete more than her own venal kinfolk and gives him a clue -- a song melody. The treasure hunt is interrupted by the arrival of the pistol-packing bandit Bonnie -- who is really the romantic Claire Matthews (Helen Walker), just pretending to be tough to keep the Fleagles at bay and grab the loot for herself. Murder, He Says is an unbroken series of word games, crazy killers, slapstick chases and death threats, all of which Fred MacMurray reacts to with cheerful aplomb. MacMurray's easygoing attitude gives the film's collection of weird events a dreamlike quality that Luis Buñuel might have admired. Escaping from the shotgun-toting Mert and Bert, Pete hitches a ride in a truck, which takes him right back to the hillbilly death house. A glowing ghost in the night turns out to be one of the Fleagle's hounds, covered with a luminous toxin. A subsequent murder attempt involves a bowl of soup laced with this poison. With all the bowls spinning around the table on a lazy-Susan device, nobody knows who has sipped a lethal dose until yet another victim begins glowing like a monster from a Universal horror film. The supporting cast has a grand time with their wacky characters. Marjorie Main's domineering Mamie and Porter Hall's conniving madman are little gems of performance, and the unheralded Peter Whitney is fine in as twin oafs, only one of which can be immobilized by a fast slam to an Achilles-like crick in his back. The special effects that show the actor playing against himself, often in the same frame, are completely convincing. In a fetching Daisy Mae hairstyle, pretty Helen Walker comes off as a much softer presence than her icy schemer in the celebrated Nightmare Alley. She makes for a sexy Bonnie Parker type, ordering the Fleagles about at the point of a gun until the real gangster dame (feisty Barbara Pepper) shows up. Murder, He Says maintains a giddy, very non-Hollywood sense of imbalance right through the silly ending where all the villains tumble into a hay baler -- the movie winds up as we imagine Preston Sturges' imaginary rural romp "Hey Hey in the Hayloft" might. Either that, or the movie will remind modern audiences of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, another tale of degenerate yahoos running a rural death trap. At the jolly finish of Murder, He Says, the luckless first victim of the deadly Fleagles has been entirely forgotten. Always a popular performer, ace dancer Donald O'Connor achieved immortality as Gene Kelly's hoofing sidekick in Singin' in the Rain but earned his bread and butter in a series of less prestigious but always entertaining musical vehicles. One of these is 1948's Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', a budget minded Universal effort that affords O'Connor three pleasant song 'n' dance numbers, and leaves the rest of the movie to whatever resources are available on the Universal lot. Although technically taking place in the Old West, the show earns its Hick Pix credentials with the presence of Marjorie Main as yet another sentimental rural battleaxe. She is paired with Percy Kilbride for the first time since The Egg and I: their official Ma and Pa Kettle series was still in the planning stages. The story makes use of Universal's western back lot, minimizing the need for budget items like horses and guns. Salesman Wilbur McMurty (O'Connor) breezes into Rimrock, a tiny town engaged in a bitter competition with neighboring Big Bend. Rimrock needs a champion runner to go up against Big Bend's burly blacksmith. With Rimrock mortgaged to the hilt, mayor Maribel Mathews (Marjorie Main) has bet most of the town's money on the race and must somehow come up with a winning candidate. Seeing Wilbur sprint after a departing stagecoach, she has sheriff Sharkey (sometime Stooge Joe Besser) lock the salesman in the livery stable, where his only company until he agrees to race will be his own shadow. This cues a clever dance number set to Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer's "Me and My Shadow"; O'Connor does his patented dance move in which he runs up a wall and flips backwards onto his feet. When Wilbur gets a look at Maribel's beautiful daughter Libby (Penny Edwards), he finds the motivation to compete in good faith. That is, if he gets a chance: the heavy wagers between Rimrock and Big Bend have upped the incentive to cheat. Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' is a middling star vehicle that barely does service to the talented Donald O'Connor, who would nevertheless keep making similar movies for the next ten years. Screenwriter D.D. Beauchamp does his best to enliven the generic proceedings that climax in a slapstick footrace through Universal's back lot acreage. Wilbur has been tricked into staying up all night walking a sick horse and can barely stay awake for the race. The humor is on the silly side, as when Wilbur repeatedly falls in a brook and is washed downstream, each time emerging from the water with a larger fish in his hands. Earlier on, the screenwriter squeezes some mileage from the idea that Wilbur is being treated and trained like a racehorse. Maribel and her beau, the somewhat passive Billy Caswell (Percy Kilbride) make Wilbur trot in a circle, and the veterinarian checks his fitness by examining his teeth. In time-honored comedy fashion, Wilbur is too bashful to declare his love to Penny and instead directs his words through a friendly horse. For viewers familiar with O'Connor's Francis the Talking Mule comedy series, these scenes almost seem prophetic. Watch out Donald! When the animals start talking back you'll be sharing marquee space with a long-eared co-star. Cute Penny Edwards has plenty of dancing talent but was soon working in low profile westerns. The film directs more of its attention at the Marjorie Main / Percy Kilbride relationship. The outspoken Maribel uses the quiet Billy as a floor mat and claims that she won't remarry until she finds a man strong enough to order her about. In keeping with postwar gender politics, Billy Caswell wins his mate by showing her who's boss -- and depriving her of her job as mayor. The TCM Vault Collection's Double Bill DVD of Murder, He Says and Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' is an interesting comedy pairing. The rich transfer of Murder, originally a Paramount release, flatters Theodor Sparkuhl's deep blacks - almost all of the movie takes place at night. The Universal-International programmer Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin' doesn't fare as well. The source appears light and soft, and is probably from a surviving 16mm element. A few scratches also intrude, but the film is intact and the audio clear. The features come on separate discs. TCM has augmented them with galleries of stills & artwork, and informative essays culled from the research database of the TCM website. For more information about Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', visit TCM Vault Collection. To order Murder, He Says/Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin', go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of the film was Murder Farm. "Bonnie Fleagle Johnson" was humorously patterned after the infamous bandit Bonnie Parker. According to a Paramount News item, recordings of accents used by natives of Arkansas were used to coach the cast.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States March 1979

Released in United States on Video November 1998

Released in United States Summer June 8, 1945

Released in United States March 1979 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 50-Hour Mighty MovieMarathon: Mystery and Suspense) March 14-30, 1979.)

Released in United States Summer June 8, 1945

Released in United States on Video November 1998