Murder, He Says (1945) – reviewed by George

This comedy pits the affable Fred MacMurray against a murderous family of hillbillies, led by Marjorie Main as Ma Fleagle (she’s actually on her third husband, but the kids are all Fleagles, so Ma Fleagle she remains). Peter Marshall (MacMurray) works for the Trotter Poll (“Same as the Gallup Poll, only we’re not in quite as much of a hurry”), and he has been sent to a town in the hills to find out what happened to the other Trotter pollster who was sent here a few weeks ago and has not been heard from since. Unfortunately for him, he arrives at the General Store just after the incumbent sheriff, who is there to get out the vote, has been told that Bonnie Fleagle, Ma’s older daughter, has just broken out of the penitentiary. This news has vacated the store, and the rival for the job as sheriff has ripped down his campaign sign as he fled.
Fred asks about Hector P. Smedley, the missing Trotter pollster, and is told that the last anyone saw of him was when he headed out to the Fleagles’ place. Fred asks where the Fleagle place is and is told “Pottawatomi, about six miles down that road.” Of course he arrives after dark; this is a movie, after all. He meets Ma, her third husband, Mr. Johnson, played by Porter Hall, and her twin sons, Mert and Bert, both played by Peter Whitney. There is also a daughter, Elany Fleagle, played by Jean Heather. And of course Grandma, played by Mabel Paige. Grandma has been poisoned and is on her last legs, but she is still outspoken and eager for revenge. Seems Bonnie is a bank robber and her latest haul of $70,000 is hidden somewhere in the house. Grandma specifically emphasizes that it is not outside. AND she gives Peter the only clue, a hand-stitched sampler with notes sewed in, that Peter can read and hum. Later he hears Elany singing the same notes, with these words: Honors flysis, Income beezis, Onches nobis, Inob keesis.
While he’s struggling to understand the clue, and looking around for the money, which he is supposed to give to Elany, Bonnie arrives, played by the beautiful Helen Walker with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth and a gun in her hand with which she hits Peter fairly regularly.
Then there’s another arrival: one more Fleagle played by Barbara Pepper.
Peter’s attempts to escape, always thwarted, are comical, as are the other performances, especially Peter Whitney as the two dimwitted brothers who enjoy hitting each other with anything to hand. And eventually Peter gets to a happy ending involving an automatic hay-baler.
I heartily enjoyed the dinner of grits and gravy that the characters all share after Grandma has been poisoned and has begun to glow in the dark. Everyone thinks the poison is in the gravy, which is only on one plate, and the dining table is a lazy-susan.

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