Friday, January 02, 2015


Fred MacMurray is a pollster who has arrived in a backwoods town looking for his predecessor who has gone missing. He was last seen with the Fleagles, a wildly eccentric hillbilly family who don't cotton to strangers comin' around, but against advice from some of the locals—who think that the whole family should be in jail—MacMurray rides his bike up to their house that night. His first sign that things aren’t right is the glow-in-the-dark dog he sees running through the woods. Other signs: a feisty matriarch (Marjorie Main) who wields a bullwhip and uses it regularly, two roughneck twins (both played by Peter Whitney), a daughter who has just escaped from prison, another daughter who's a little flighty and sings to herself, radioactive gravy, and a ghost (maybe). Soon he winds up racing through secret passages looking for missing loot with another outsider (Helen Walker). It's not really a spoiler to note that in the end virtually every character goes through a machine that packs them up inside bales of hay.

This is a "Tobacco Road" version of THE OLD DARK HOUSE with much wilder comedy and a sci-fi element—the glowing dogs and people and gravy. It has quite a cult reputation, and it starts off well, but like many entries in the screwball comedy genre (for example, BRINGING UP BABY), it's definitely an acquired taste. Viewers who don't like the film version of ARESENIC AND OLD LACE will have a problem with this for the same reason—it eventually goes breakneck-zany, with the dark humor and slapstick piling up a little too fast and furious for some tastes. I happen to like ARSENIC, even though I agree that it loses control near the end; this one gets even crazier, but it doesn't have Cary Grant to anchor it. MacMurray is OK, but he is overshadowed by Main (seeing her work that whip is pretty damn fun), Whitney (who is very good as the twins, and the effect that allows them to share the screen occasionally is good as well, as pictured at left), Porter Hall as Main's current husband and source of the glowing potion (pictured at right with Whitney and Main), and Jean Heather as the childlike daughter whose singing is a major clue to the whereabouts of the hidden money. There a cute reference to the Bob Hope movie THE GHOST BREAKERS (directed by this movie's director George Marshall) and the beginning of the nonsense song that Heather sings throughout is pretty much note-for-note the same as the theme to NPR's All Things Considered. I enjoyed this but I was rather tuckered out by the end. [TCM]

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