The Criterion Channel is featuring a number of lesser-known screwball comedies, and I randomly picked out this one to watch this afternoon.
Fred MacMurray stars as Pete Marshall who works for the Trotter Poll company, which he says is the “same as the Gallup Poll, only we’re not in as much of a hurry.” He’s polling people in rural areas to see how they live in modern life. One day he comes across a redneck family called the Fleagles. Ma Fleagle (Marjorie Main) carries with her a bullwhip which she uses to keep her twin boys Mert and Bert (Peter Whitney) in line and to catch flies. The boys tend to carry shotguns and aren’t afraid to “splatter” folks who come around getting nosey with it.
As it turns out Bonnie Fleagle (Barbara Pepper) robbed a bank some time ago and left $70,000 stashed away somewhere before she got hauled off to jail. She’s not too keen on the rest of the Fleagle clan and has not told any of them where the money is hidden. She did tell Grandma Fleagle the secret, but she ain’t talking.
Grandma is close to dying and her head ain’t screwed on so good so they figure Pete can pretend to be Bonnie’s boyfriend and get the secret out of her. What she tells him is pretty cryptic and doesn’t make much sense, and she’d only tell it to him when the rest of the family was out of earshot.
Just as the family is trying to get the secret out of Pete a woman claiming to be Bonnie shows up. She’s really Helen Walker (Claire Matthews) and she has her own reasons for wanting to get that money.
There is also Mr. Johnson (Porter Hall), Ma Fleagle’s third husband who is a scientist working with some experimental radioactive materials which makes people (and dogs) glow in the dark.
Like all screwball comedies Murder, He Says is very silly. At times it is also very funny, but mostly it stays in the entertaining and silly category. Fred MacMurray is always fun to watch and Marjorie Main is a hoot. The gags come fast, and the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it is quite enjoyable.
It makes for a perfect Sunday afternoon movie which is just how I watched it.