Pete Marshall (Fred MacMurray) is an outsider in the small mountain town of Plainville. He’s what’s known as a “Trotter man” — a surveyor of public opinion. He’s replacing another Trotter, Hector Smedley, who disappeared after visiting the Fleagle family, a wily gang of mountain folk. He also wants to find out what happened to Smedley.
Upon arrival in Plainville, Pete is met with side-eyes and suspicion. When he makes his way to the home of the Fleagles, he’s bewildered by the wild family and becomes convinced that they killed Smedley. As for the Fleagles themselves, they’ve got an ongoing dispute over money, which Pete quickly finds himself entangled in.
George Marshall directs 1945’s Murder, He Says. The film was scripted by Lou Breslow from a story by Jack Moffitt.
Murder, He Says is a film that expects too many laughs to come from its “hillbilly” shtick and is far too loud for my taste at times. “Zany” doesn’t even begin to cover it when it comes to the Fleagle family. That being said, it does have its laughs and is generally fun to watch with its blend of slapstick and the sinister.
Marjorie Main is always a treat to watch, and she makes a great appearance here in a role that is not exactly atypical for her — a gun-slinging, hard-talking woman. The familiarity of the character doesn’t make Main any less likable, and she’s definitely an asset to this film.
The script is pretty nicely-written, even if it is played a bit over-the-top at times, and there is some very clever dialogue throughout. There are also some hilarious glowing special effects which add a touch of fun to the film beyond the talents of its cast and the wit of its script.
As for our leading man, MacMurray, he delivers a good performance as a man “especially picked for [his] ability to probe without snooping,” which would be great if the mountain folk believed him. Instead, they’re sure he’s come to Plainville to snoop, and they’re not happy about it. He’s a “civilized” city man among “hillbillies,” and MacMurray emphasizes that contrast well against his supporting cast. He also works very well with Helen Walker, who plays another outsider to the Fleagle family, mixed up in the money mess because her father works as a banker.
Murder, He Says is not one to watch if you’re averse to high-strung, slapstick-ish humor, but it does have a pretty good script and a very good cast. If you can put up with all of the hollerin’, it’s a decent little watch. The score: 3/5