Meet the Fleagles; or, Luminous Gravy

Sorry, I forgot who recommended MURDER, HE SAYS — it was a good call, though, this was very enjoyable.

Never had a real handle on George Marshall as a director, his looong career having taken in just about every kind of entertainment, including another spooky house comedy, THE GHOST BREAKERS, which he explicitly, and I mean EXPLICITLY, references in this one (Fred MacMurray: “Did you ever see that movie, The Ghost Breakers?”) But he was clearly a guy with plenty of chops: apart from all the bizarre material crammed into this flick, which would have been entertaining in an eye-popping kind of way no matter who’d been in charge, there’s a farce sequence in a dark cellar with characters near-missing and mistaking each other which is really superb — on the page I bet it looked impossible.

Fred MacMurray (a little over-the-top but still likable — admits to being a sax player, too) is another Marshall, Pete Marshall, a census-taker who hasn’t heard the likely fate of such persons when they meet serial killers… Running into the psychotic redneck Fleagle family (a name I had previously only encountered by way of television’s The Banana Splits)  he becomes involved in a search for buried loot in an environment that seems to anticipate certain aspects of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There’s also polonium-like poison being splashed about, causing various characters to glow in the dark, resulting in some striking visuals. Thanks to a good script and Marshall’s deft control, a movie that could have been as irksome as SHIT! THE OCTOPUS becomes a minor gem.

But why CAN’T I have a glow-in-the-dark Mabel Paige of my own?

Also worthy of note — Porter Hall, the man who can do anything, playing a weaselly bogus intellectual who has “dabbled in phrenology, psychology and the science of hyper-physical manifestation”;  Mabel Paige as the rootin’ tootin’ grandma (and it’s hard for me to believe that mere months ago I was unaware that there WAS a Mabel Paige — today I am scarcely aware there’s anyone else); Jean Heather (Lola from DOUBLE INDEMNITY) as the sweetly simple Elany (somebody get her a date with Boo Radley); and leading lady Helen Walker, who we always call “The Honorable Betty Cream.” She takes a while to show up, though, causing Fiona to protest, “Oh, when is The Honorable Betty Cream going to appear? It’s like waiting for Groucho!”

Worth it.

16 Responses to “Meet the Fleagles; or, Luminous Gravy”

  1. Jerry Lewis credits George Marshall with teaching him the nuts and bolts of film direction. Marshall also allowed Jerry to direct several of his own scenes in their Martin & Lewis films.

  2. Interesting… he clearly has a brilliant sense of farce timing, and that’s hard stuff to do onscreen.

  3. Chuck Stephens Says:

    How quickly they forget.

    MacMurray played the sax part for the MY THREE SONS theme as well.

  4. Ah-hah, this was your suggestion? Thanks!

    MacMurray’s success working with strong leading ladies rested on his modesty: he considered himself a sax player who’d lucked into a movie career, rather than an actor, so he never tried to upstage Stanwyck, Dietrich et al. Which they appreciated.

    I’d be interested to hear a horn player’s analysis of MacMurray’s work in Swing High Swing Low, where he plays a trumpeter. I presume his faking would be very convincing.

  5. How good he was faking the horn in Swing High Swing Low was less important than the way he maintained the curve of his arm when Carole Lombard draped herself over it in the breathtakingly beautiful climatic shot.

  6. Chuck Stephens Says:

    My pleasure: mine was the connection between this film and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as well — the choreography of MacMurray’s “escape” from and almost immediate recapture by the Fleagles (murderous pater familias mistaken for savior) was borrowed by Tobe Hooper (and more recently repurposed by Rob Zombie) quite exactly.

  7. Is George Marshall underrated? I’m looking at his filmography and I guess I’ve seen more than I recall, but I’ve never had the urge to say “Ooh, that George Marshall.” Should pay better attention.

  8. This one shows real comic panache, and The Ghost Breakers is both very funny and actually quite spooky. But I’d have to see more to decide if Marshall is more than just skilled.

    I think we should track down Tobe and beat the truth out of him. It’ll probably turn out that Scared Stiff was the inspiration for Lifeforce.

  9. Christopher Says:

    can’t think of George Marshall without thinking of him as the cook.PIERRE!..who runs off Laurel and Hardy at the end of Pack Up Your Troubles..”weeell..if it ain’t the snitchers…..and I got my knife!

  10. David Boxwell Says:

    Helen Walker is so totally crool (a mix of cool and cruel) in Goulding’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY. I always enjoy imitating her “cultivated” accent, which put Crawford’s in a corner. She had a few meatier parts, although it was a short-lived career, when she got dropped by Paramount. A tragic life, alas.

    Oh, and I urge you again, check out Miss Mabel in Marin’s NOCTURNE (46). She is George Raft’s cheeky mum.

    (Damn, damn, damn! I f’d up my recording of M,HS the other night when it played on US TCM!)

  11. David Boxwell Says:

    M,HS could be made today in the USA. The Washington Post reported this year that 113 census takers were assaulted in just one month, most of them by ignernt Teabaggers who have been told, by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, to hate the Gubmint, which is tracking them to force them to drink flouride cocktails and pay extra taxes for Obama’s reparations to black people. . .

  12. “Evil-Eye Fleagle” was a character in the LI’L ABNER comic strip … at least as far back as 1951. The question, I suppose, is whether he was around when MURDER, HE SAYS was put together.

    As for Marshall as director … my sense is that, basically, there’s “no there there.” Isn’t there an unflattering quote or two in the Leisen interview book?

    I do love GHOST BREAKERS and what I can remember — mostly the “Honors Flyzis” song and the glowing apparition — of MURDER, HE SAYS. BLUE DAHLIA deserved better, though, and I remember being distinctly underimpressed by DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. I’m fond of STAR-SPANGLED RHYTHM, but something tells me that isn’t too much involved with that film’s virtues.

  13. Oh, well I like Destry. Mischa Auer at his most hysterical, Marlene sending herself up, and a western that’s not macho. My suspicion is that Marshall could bring definite talent to bear on his various subjects, preferably comedy, but he doesn’t impart a strong personality of his own. More than a traffic cop, less than an auteur?

  14. David B, I wonder what made America’s right so batshit crazy? I mean, they were always devoted to a twisted, unpleasant ideology and prone to moronic leaps of logic to justify their fondly-held beliefs, but the world according to Fox News seems to be way beyond even Reagan’s senile dreams.

  15. Indeed it is. They’re looking for someone to hate other than themselves.

  16. Could be. Hatred does seem to be all about projecting one’s own most despised qualities onto the opposition. Do I hate them, and if so, is it a projection of my own hypocrisy and prejudice? Could be, but I still see more than enough hard evidence to suggest they’re way out in front in the h&p stakes.

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