A comedy of murder in the style of the ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), this dark farce features Fred MacMurray as Trotter company pollster ("It's like the Gallup poll, only not so fast") Pete Marshall, who's sent to the tiny Ozark town of Plainville to find out what happened to his predecessor, Mr. Smedley. Pete immediately runs afoul of the highly eccentric Fleagle clan, including whip-cracking Mamie (Marjorie Main, taking her Ma Kettle persona into a disturbing realm), her sons, crazy twin killers Bert and Mert (both played brilliantly by Peter Whitney) and her not-all-there daughter, Elany (Jean Heather). The household is rounded out by Mamie's sneaky third husband, Mr. Johnson (Porter Hall), and dying Grandma Fleagle (Mabel Paige), who hopes to hold out until her granddaughter Bonnie returns. Pete realizes he's landed in quite a pickle: The backwoods Fleagles, who clearly know something about the missing Smedley, appear ready to arrange his disappearance as well. The only reason they don't is that they think they can use him to get a vital piece of information out of Grandma Fleagle: Where Bonnie hid $70,000. in stolen loot before she went to jail. Complicating matters further, Bonnie (Helen Walker) has just broken out of jail, and shows up at the house packing a pistol just after Grandma dies... except that she isn't actually Bonnie. She's Claire Mathews, and she too is looking for the missing money, which she hopes to use to exonerate her jailed father. The trouble is, Grandma only told Pete two things. That the musical notes stitched on a sampler are a clue to the money's location "To them what doesn't know the tune, sounds like the ravin's of a loon" and that she was murdered: Someone in the house has a heavy hand with a fatal, luminescent potion that makes its victims glow like fireflies. What follows is a series of slapstick mishaps involving secret passages, pratfalls and looney misunderstandings as Pete and Claire try to stay alive and find the money. The key to everything turns out to be contained in the nonsensical rhyme Elany likes to sing to herself: "Honors flysis/Income beezis/Onches nobis/Inob keesis." Though its mix of murder and mayhem is far less successful than that of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, this offbeat picture delivers both some genuinely eerie moments and a few solid laughs. Don't be surprised if it takes several days for you to get Elany's song out of your head.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: A comedy of murder in the style of the ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), this dark farce features Fred MacMurray as Trotter company pollster ("It's like the Gallup poll, only not so fast") Pete Marshall, who's sent to the tiny Ozark town of Plainville to find o… (more)