Cast & Crew
After winning $50,000 and a trip to New York City on the "Treasure Ship" radio contest, widow Hattie O'Malley of Proudfoot, Montana, boards a train destined for the East coast. En route, Hattie reads her favorite true crime magazine, featuring an article on the exploits of Chicago attorney and criminologist John J. Malone. At about the same time, Malone, an alcoholic playboy who has squandered all his money and has been missing for days, is found in a morgue, sleeping off the effects of a drinking binge. When Malone returns to his office, he learns that one of his clients, Steve Kepplar, has just "graduated" from Joliet prison and is on his way to New York. Having worked hard to win Kepplar's parole, Malone boards the same train to New York on which Hattie is traveling to collect the $10,000 that the ex-convict owes him for his services. Also traveling on the same train are Tim Marino, a Chicago detective who believes that Kepplar will attempt to get at the $100,000 that he stole from a bank and hid; Kepplar's ex-wife Connie, who is seeking her alimony payments; Myron Brynk, Kepplar's former business partner; and Myron's fortune-hunting girl friend, Lola Gillway. Soon after Malone meets and falls instantly in love with Hattie's beautiful niece Joanie, an argument breaks out among Marino, Connie and the others over who will be the first to get Kepplar's money. The argument is settled by Marino, however, when he reminds everyone that the money is stolen loot and that only the bank is entitled to it. The double-crossing Lola hides Kepplar, now disguised as a sailor, in her room and schemes to split the money with him. Hattie becomes an unwitting participant in the intrigue when she discovers the murdered body of Kepplar in her compartment. Realizing that he and Hattie are being framed for the murder, Malone removes Kepplar's body to the train's ladies lounge. A short time later, Lola is found murdered in Hattie's cabin, and Marino arrests her and Malone. Things look bad for Hattie and Malone until Malone frees himself and forces a confession from Brynk. Brynk says enough to clear Malone, but Malone interrupts the confession when Brynk indicates that he will hire Malone to be his attorney.
William F. Walter
J. Lewis Smith
Jerry Lascoe Jr.
W. P. Allen
Daniel B. Cathcart
Richard A. Pefferle
William J. Tuttle
Paul Francis Webster
Edwin B. Willis
William H. Wright
Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone
In the late 1940s the studio turned to a pair of proven mystery authors who had already worked in Hollywood features to create a new movie mystery franchise. One of them was author Craig Rice, the pen name for Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig, a successful writer of delightfully surreal and comic mysteries, and a movie industry veteran from her screenplay work on two of The Falcon features; she is perhaps most famous for her detective stories featuring hard-drinking Chicago attorney cum gumshoe John J. Malone. Rice was also the ghostwriter for stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's bestselling murder mystery "The G-String Murders," as well as for a novel by Falcon movie headliner George Sanders.
The other author was Stuart Palmer, a writer who had rocketed to fame with his amusing mysteries centered around eccentric spinster schoolteacher and amateur detective Hildegarde Withers, several of which had been made into films starring Edna May Oliver. Palmer was also no stranger to Hollywood, having written the screenplays for his Withers stories, along with several entries in the Bulldog Drummond series for Paramount, two contributions to Falcon film franchise, and either supplying the stories or the screenplays for many other mystery films.
Palmer and Rice had collaborated on a short story entitled "Once Upon a Train" AKA "The Loco Motive" which brought their two signature detectives -- Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone -- together on a train to solve a lively murder. When MGM decided to make it into a film in 1950, the studio changed the Withers character, allegedly due to a rights issue, into Mrs. Hattie O'Malley, a widowed, cantankerous radio contest winner from Montana who meets Malone, and becomes embroiled in a distinctly screwball mystery. They also changed the title to Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone in order to spotlight the two protagonists who they hoped would became MGM's new detective team. Though Rice and Palmer did not pen the screenplay, a job given to veteran Hollywood writer William Bowers (The Gunfighter , Night and Day , My Favorite Spy , among many others), the famous mystery writers' combined trademark wit, irreverence and penchant for rambunctious sleuthing was transferred intact to the screen.
Veteran Hollywood director Norman Taurog, who started out in show business as a child actor on the stage and soon moved into movie work in front of and then behind the camera, was tapped to direct. Taurog, who was confident in all genres and had already won an Academy Award® for his direction of 1931's Skippy and was nominated for Boys Town in 1938, was an ideal choice for Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone. Skilled in everything from knockabout comedy (Strike Me Pink, 1936) to serious drama (The Beginning or the End, 1947), Taurog was able to combine the requisite thrills and chills necessary for a successful mystery film with the unique comic sensibility of Rice and Palmer's humorous detective pair.
Casting the leads was of paramount importance and the part of Mrs. O'Malley, the raucous Montana widow, was a natural for notorious scene stealer Marjorie Main, a minister's daughter who lived a small town dream; she changed her name and went on the stage, eventually making the transition from vaudeville to Broadway and then to Hollywood in the early 1930s. She first achieved success in dramatic roles that used her slightly worn, salt-of-the-earth looks and inherent strength of character to bring unglamorous parts to life, such as her turn as Humphrey Bogart's mother in Dead End in 1937, or in Stella Dallas that same year. Later, her gift for comedy was recognized and encouraged in several MGM films with co-star Wallace Beery, where she more than held her own opposite the bigger-than-life star. Her expertise and glee when portraying backwoods country-types made Marjorie Main a genuine star and this was most memorably demonstrated in the nutty Paramount comedy/mystery Murder, He Says in 1945, and even more so when she hit pay dirt with her small role as Ma Kettle in Universal's The Egg and I (1947) starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.
Main and the hilariously laconic Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle stole the movie, and it launched the pair into a nine-picture run, from 1949-1957, playing the country bumpkin couple to incredible success. Marjorie moved between Universal and MGM studios in strong supporting roles in films such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Summer Stock (1950) and The Harvey Girls (1946); the latter film, in fact, turns up as an in-joke in Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone as Main explains to the radio announcer that she went out West as a Harvey Girl. Off-screen, the actress was quiet and dignified, though definitely a bit of an oddball. After the death of her beloved clergyman/psychologist husband Dr. Stanley Krebs, Marjorie would often, on movie shoots, move to the side of a film set during breaks and converse with her dead spouse, asking for his blessing to go ahead with the scene; she also continued to set a place for him at her dinner table. Eccentricities notwithstanding, Marjorie was a delightful presence in all of her movie roles, and often was called upon to deliver a song in her own inimitable raspy growl - Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone was no exception. In the movie she delightfully sings a variation on the old-timey country fiddler folk tune "Possum Up a Gum Stump".
MGM's choice to play detective John J. Malone was James Whitmore, the Yale-educated former Marine who began his acting career after service in WW II. He quickly moved from stock company roles to Broadway acclaim in the 1948 play "Command Decision" for which he won the Leading Actor Tony Award. Hollywood snapped Whitmore up soon after; he made one film for Columbia and then moved to MGM, where he made his second film Battleground in 1949, and received an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Envisioned by MGM as a Spencer Tracy-type - he even slightly resembled the star- Whitmore worked in a wide variety of titles, including the unusual theological domestic drama The Next Voice You Hear (1950) and the gritty John Huston-directed crime drama The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Whitmore's amiable everyman presence was perfect for the conniving, hard-drinking, devil-may-care detective John J. Malone, who is first glimpsed in Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone waking up on a morgue slab after an alcoholic bender. Though primarily a dramatic actor, Whitmore managed to find the perfect mix of hard-boiled detective panache and near-slapstick sensibility for his interpretation of Malone.
The rest of the cast of Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone was pure MGM class. Glamorous Ann Dvorak, veteran Hollywood actress (Scarface , The Crowd Roars (1932), Dr. Socrates ) was cast as a gangster's wife; MGM discovery and newcomer Phyllis Kirk, a former model, came aboard as Malone's faithful and adorable secretary Kay (she later portrayed Nora Charles in MGM's "The Thin Man" TV series in 1957); the ever-exasperated Fred Clark as a fellow detective on the trail; classy blonde Dorothy Malone, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar® in 1957 for Written on the Wind, was a gangster's girlfriend. The radio announcer seen in the first scene was played by Jack Bailey, the real life radio and TV announcer who would become the man who crowned some lucky American housewife "Queen for a Day" on his weekday TV show which ran from 1956 - 1964. And in other minor roles look for such ubiquitous screen faces as Clinton Sundberg, Regis Toomey, Don Porter, Herb Vigran, Frank Cady and even Mae Clarke, who years before had been on the receiving end of James Cagney's grapefruit-to-the-face in 1931's The Public Enemy.
Despite very positive reviews, a jaunty opening theme song, and a terrific onscreen chemistry between James Whitmore and Marjorie Main, Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone ended up as a single entry in the never-to-be-realized movie series. Watching the movie now makes you regret that a sequel was never made starring these two mismatched but perfectly compatible amateur detectives. At least we have the comic hilarity and convoluted mystery of this charming and genuinely amusing film to enjoy for all time.
Producer: William H. Wright
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: William Bowers; Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice (story "Once Upon a Train, or The Loco Motive")
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Daniel B. Cathcart, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Cast: Marjorie Main (Harriet 'Hattie' O'Malley), James Whitmore (John J. Malone), Ann Dvorak (Connie Kepplar), Phyllis Kirk (Kay), Fred Clark (Inspector Tim Marino), Dorothy Malone (Lola Gillway), Clinton Sundberg (Donald), Douglas Fowley (Steve Kepplar).
by Lisa Mateas
Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone
Intended as the first of a planned film series with stars Main and Whitmore.
The working title for this film was The Loco Motive. The character "John J. Malone" was created by crime writer Craig Rice and was used in many of her novels and short stories. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "The producers of this picture feel that the attorney depicted herein should be disbarred and strongly suggest that the American Bar Association do something about it."