Murder, He Says (1945)
Carole Lombard may have had to help coax a comic performance out of Fred MacMurray in Hands Across the Table, but by the time of 1945’s Murder, He Says, he obviously didn’t have any problems with being loose, relaxed, and downright silly when the part called for it. MacMurray’s very funny in the movie, and seems at home with slapstick comedy.
Fred plays a pollster for the Trotter poll (like the Gallup poll, but not as fast), sent to a rural backwood in search of a colleague who went missing. He encounters the Fleagles, a family of mean, crazy hillbillies headed by a bullwhip-wielding Marjorie Main. The Fleagles are trying to find a large sum of money stolen and then hidden by a now imprisoned relative, and they don’t mind killing anyone who gets in their way or, like MacMurray’s unfortunate predecessor, finds out too much.
The plot is farcical and loony, full of ridiculous, laugh-out-loud situations as the family tries to poison, shoot, or bludgeon MacMurray. There are so many hilarious moments – Fred talking with the poisoned, glowing Grandma on her deathbed, dining with the Fleagles at a Lazy Susan table and trying to avoid the poisoned grits and gravy, and attempting to control legs that are not his own, to name a few. It’s all completely wacky.
MacMurray is fun to watch as the terrified city slicker who gets in way over his head, but finally manages to outsmart the crafty, criminal hayseeds. His facial expressions are priceless and his skills at physical comedy are impressive. In fact, sacrilegious as it may seem for me to say it, I enjoyed his performance in Murder, He Says much more than Cary Grant’s in the similarly zany dark comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. Grant was too over-the-top for me in that one, but MacMurray hits just the right notes in this role. He’s as goofy and frantic as the part calls for him to be, but is also sane and normal enough to balance out the other nutty characters and their antics.
There are many times when I wish I could see a classic movie in a theater with an audience, and a movie like this one is definitely one of them. As amusing as Murder, He Says was, I’m sure it would’ve been even funnier with a crowd of others laughing along, too.