Sunday, April 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Murder, He Says (1945) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The nutty crime comedy MURDER, HE SAYS (1945) was released this month on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

It probably won't come as a surprise to longtime readers that I was tracking and reviewing movies long before I had an internet account or a blog. Way back in August 1976 my parents took me to see this film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Leo S. Bing Theater, after which I gave it a one-star review, writing "Very strange; don't bother to see it again."

Well, having seen thousands of movies in the intervening 43-plus years, I thought it was time to disregard that admonition and come back to this film for a fresh look in a new context. And indeed, there's something very "full circle" about returning to this film the exact same month that the Leo S. Bing Theater was sadly demolished.

My 2020 verdict? I liked the film marginally better; this time I think I'd give it two stars thanks to Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, and a few clever bits. All in all, though, this just isn't my kind of comedy.

The problem is not so much that the movie is goofy -- if you like glow-in-the-dark dogs, this is the film for you! -- it's that it's almost plotless. Indeed, dialogue matters so little that I was thinking as I watched maybe it should have been a silent film! I can only watch people beating each other up or chasing each other around for so long before growing restless. In any event, it's way, way too long at 91 minutes; it should have been cut off at 70.

MacMurray starred in this film the year following his lead in the seminal classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). He plays Pete Marshall, a genial pollster who has the misfortune to show up at the Fleagle house deep in the woods. For a man fending off death almost from the moment the movie begins, MacMurray's Pete is amazingly sanguine about the whole experience; he wants out, but he plays the role for laughs rather than terror.

The Fleagles include Ma (Marjorie Main), her latest husband (Porter Hall), twins Mert and Bert (Peter Whitney), and Elany (MacMurray's DOUBLE INDEMNITY costar Jean Heather, doing a hillbilly spin on Ophelia in the last act of HAMLET).

Pete is introduced to Grandma (Mabel Paige), who privately confides to him on her deathbed (while she, incidentally, glows in the dark) something about the location of $70,000. The murderous Fleagles must then keep Pete alive long enough to find out where the loot is stashed. Meanwhile Claire Matthews (Walker) shows up, pretending to be long-jailed relative Bonnie, and she and Pete join forces to try to find the money and survive the Fleagles.

This hillbilly terror movie is so bizarre it's almost hard to figure out why Paramount Pictures released it. The script was by Lou Breslow, from a story by Jack Moffitt; Breslow later cowrote and directed another strange but much more successful film, YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951), in which Dick Powell played a dog reincarnated as a detective solving his own murder!

The movie was directed by George Marshall, who made all sorts of movies in his long career. It was shot in black and white by Theodor Sparkuhl.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray, from a new 4K master, looks absolutely fabulous, so this film's fans -- and believe it or not, there seem to be many! -- will be delighted. It might not have been the film for me, but I'm glad I tried it out again in this beautiful print, looking its very best.

The disc includes the trailer and a four-film Kino Lorber trailer gallery.

I may listen to the commentary track by Michael Schlesinger and Stan Taffel to gain some more insight into why this film tickles the funnybone of so many viewers. Schlesinger is a historian I very much admire, and as a matter of fact my husband and I had a nice chat with him in January before a screening of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940). Taffel is also an important figure in the L.A. classic film community, producing the wonderful Cinecon festival on Labor Day weekend.

For anyone trying to figure out whether or not this film is their cup of tea, here are takes on this film by a couple other reviewers: Check out Mike Clark at Media Play News ("the most twisted Hollywood comedy I know from the 1940s") and Charlie Largent for CineSavant/Trailers From Hell ("a conflation of Looney Tunes nonsense and Southern Gothic that has never been equaled").

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

It hurts my head to decipher why something makes me laugh (ouch), but I think part of Murder, He Says appeal to me is its strangeness/uniqueness. And two Peter Whitneys.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, as we know, everyone likes different types of books, movies, TV shows, and etc... It looks like I fall into Paddy Lee's camp on this one. I think MURDER, HE SAYS(filmed in 1944, released 1945) is worth watching, especially during these troubling times that we are living through. We need to laugh and this oddball of a movie, especially for that time, or maybe anytime, provides some laughs. Too me, this movie is fun to watch and it entertains me. Coming from my background, I enjoyed the haybaling contraption at the end. I won't say anymore, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I thought the split screen with Bert and Mert was very well done.

On another note, story writer Jack Moffitt, being from Kansas City, Missouri must have known of the real life "Roaring 1920's" bank robbing and murdering Fleagle Gang of Kansas and Colorado. Brothers Ralph and Jake Fleagle led the gang to their bitter end. There was a song written about them titled THE FATE OF THE FLEAGLE GANG, which hit the air waves in November, 1930. Ralph Fleagle, as he walked to the hanging scaffold said, "I guess this will teach me a lesson." His brother Jake escaped the scaffold, but was later shot while pulling his pistol on the lawmen, who had him surrounded on a train near Branson, Missouri. Jake later died from his wounds in nearby Springfield, Missouri.

Writer Jack Moffitt added a Bonnie Fleagle(Barbara Pepper, who I remember as Doris Ziffel on the GREEN ACRES TV show), as in Bonnie Parker and Mamie "Ma" Fleagle(Marjorie Main) as in infamous Ma Barker of the Barker Gang.

Laura and your readers, stay safe and healthy.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, it is definitely a strange and unique film among '40s movies! :) :)

Walter, I think you and Paddy are in the majority, everyone I hear from seems to like this film more than I do.

That haybaling thing was something else! I do give the film props for creative staging, including the two Peter Whitneys.

Great added background on the criminal inspirations. I assumed while watching that Bonnie was an allusion to the name Bonnie Parker, but had no idea of there being a real Fleagle gang!

Best wishes to you for good health as well, Walter!

10:37 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

My sister's mother-in-law just got the Blu-ray for her birthday and bequeathed her DVD copy to me. It's been a while since we've watched the movie, so maybe we'll revisit soon (in fact, we're getting together tonight, so I'll make that suggestion.)

11:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'd love to know your impressions on revisiting it, Seth! Have a nice time. :)

Best wishes,

11:58 AM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

I'm with you on this one, Laura, finding it far too frenetic and noisy, lacking wit or a moment's rest. Even the Marx Brothers know when to stop for a while while Chico tickles the ivories or Harpo creates a musical moment, but Fred and company never let up a rather childish chases up and down stairs and ladders and sliding panels; I think these has a sort of Three Stooges appeal and borders on the surreal with the twin lunkheads and Marjorie Main at her most rustic. I can understand why some folks find it hysterical, but I just wanted it to be over.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing your reaction to the film. It's especially interesting to hear from others on a movie like this which is enjoyed by so many people whose opinions I respect, yet leaves me cold. I really wish I liked it! It was looooong. Very interesting to hear from someone whose take was similar to my own.

Best wishes,

10:22 AM  

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