There are dastardly people and pranks afoot among the Arkansas hills in George Marshall’s dark comic farce Murder, He Says.
The Production: 4/5
There are dastardly people and pranks afoot among the Arkansas hills in George Marshall’s dark comic farce Murder, He Says. With some great character actors establishing the essence of shadowy hillbilly shenanigans, Fred MacMurray finds himself knee deep in secrets and lies in this comedy classic. Kino Lorber has added another Paramount gem to their rapidly expanding line of Studio Classics.
Pete Marshall (Fred MacMurray) is sent as a replacement to the mountain district town of Plainville when a public opinion surveyor who went there goes missing. Visiting the hillbilly family of Mamie Fleagle (Marjorie Main), Pete begins to suspect that she and her two sons (both played by Peter Whitney) have murdered the surveyor. Pete then believes that Mamie and her husband (Porter Hall) are slowly poisoning wealthy Grandma Fleagle (Mabel Paige) who allegedly knows the secret to the whereabouts of $70,000 of stolen bank money. When Claire Matthews (Helen Walker) arrives with her own reason for needing to find the money, Pete vows to help locate the hidden loot with only a mysterious sampler as the clue to the money’s location.
Lou Breslow’s screenplay was originally intended for Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard as a follow-up to their riotously successful comic-horror farce The Ghost Breakers, also directed by George Marshall. Even without the expert comic playing of those two stalwarts, Murder, He Says works its moody comic mayhem on an audience quite successfully. The backwoods ambiance is well established and sustained by director George Marshall and with most of the movie happening at night, the shadowy crumbling manse with its hidden passageways, creepy basement, and hidden attic room serves both the farce and the suspense rather well (aided by a shadowy gloved figure creeping around the house and springing out when one least expects it). Though the film runs only a touch over 90-minutes, there’s not really enough plot to cover that amount of time necessitating some extended chases and slapstick encounters that sometimes run on past the point of effectiveness. On the whole, however, Marshall keeps things moving, and the comic conclusion involving a hay baler works very well indeed.
Fred MacMurray is not a natural fit for the role of Pete Marshall; he comes off as more intelligent than the character onscreen is allowed to be, but he gets with the spirit of the farce and makes the part his own. Helen Walker’s initial portrayal of a gun moll and later revelation as a nice girl gives her a fun character to play, and she does it very well. As always, Marjorie Main steals all of her scenes even though she’s playing mean and rotten here while wielding a wicked bullship. Peter Whitney gets the plum role of twins which he does expertly aided by some first class special effects work. Jean Heather as simple-minded daughter Elany Fleagle who unknown to everyone holds the key to the mystery and Porter Hall as the suspiciously good-natured Mr. Johnson are both excellent with Heather’s work quite poignant in places. Barbara Pepper makes a late-film appearance as an escaped convict who’ll do anything to find that stolen money.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from a slight scratch or two and some varying black densities, the image is beautiful with rich black levels and deep shadows. Whites are quite bright, especially the glowing effects which are a running motif in the movie.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is very typical of its era. Dialogue is clear and cleanly recorded and presented, and the sound effects are crisp and nicely defined. Music cues only occur over the main titles and at the end of the film, a simple tune which is also sporadically hummed, sung, or played on a pump organ during the movie.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historians Michael Schlesinger and Stan Taffel have a cheery, chatty commentary about the film naming many of the famous character actors who pop up on screen and giving some interesting background on the leading players, director, and other behind-the-scenes contributors to the movie’s success.
Theatrical Trailer (2:05, HD)
Kino Trailers: The Ghost Breakers, Supernatural, Dr. Cyclops, Road to Utopia.
A darkly daffy farce with fine work by Fred MacMurray, Marjorie Main, and Peter Whitney and with solid direction by George Marshall, Murder, He Says is well worth seeing for either the first or the fiftieth time. Kino Lorber has done a splendid job packaging the movie in high definition for fans of the stars, director, or genre. Recommended!