Toronto Film Society presented Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone (1950) on Monday, July 18, 2016 in a double bill with Hot Millions as part of the Season 69 Summer Series, Programme 2.
An MGM film. Director: Norman Taurog. Producer: William H. Wright. Screenplay: William Bowers, based on the story by Craig Rice and Stuart Palmer. Camera: Ray June. Music: Adolph Deutsch. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Editor: Gene Ruggiero.
Cast: Marjorie Main (Hattie O’Malley), James Whitmore (John J. Malone), Ann Dvorak (Connie Kepplar), Phyllis Kirk (Kay), Fred Clark (Tim Marino), Dorothy Malone (Lola Gillway), Clinton Sundberg (Donald), Douglas Fowley (Steve Kepplar), Willard Waterman (Mr. Ogle), Nancy Saunders (Joanie), Basil Tellou (The Greek), James Burke (Conductor), Eddie Waller (Rigger), Regis Toomey, Herb Vigran (Reporters), Fred Brady (Orchestra Leader), Henry Corden (Sascha), Edward Earle (Mr. Fillion), Elizabeth Flournoy (Mrs. Fillion), Noreen Mortensen (Margie), Mae Clarke, Thelma Rigdon, Stanley Blystone, Bette Arlen, Lisa Lowry, Philo McCullough, Jerry Lasoe Jr. (Passengers), Pat Williams (Pirate Girl), Jeffrey Sayre, J. Lewis Smith (Photographers), Diana Norris (Jessie), Donna Norris (Bessie).
Tonight’s first film is based on one of six short stories collaborated on and written by Craig Rice and Stuart Palmer which were published in the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine starting in the late 1940s.
Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone is based on the short story “Once Upon a Train” and while the character John J. Malone was one of the detectives in the Hildegarde films, the Withers character was replaced by Mrs. O’Malley, a hillbilly from Montana.
Here’s a little background history on the writers:
Stuart Palmer, who wrote the Hildegarde Withers stories, one of which you will see here in the final Summer Series programme, was already good friends with fellow mystery writer Craig Rice when they had first worked together on the screenplay for the 1942 The Falcon’s Brother starring George Sanders.
He was born on June 21, 1905 and before becoming famous for writing fourteen Hildegarde Withers novels, Palmer held a variety of jobs including seaman, apple picker, taxi-driver and newspaper reporter.
At one point, he served for one year as president of the Mystery Writers of America and died on February 4, 1968 at the age of 62.
Author Craig Rice was born Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig in 1908 and was sometimes described as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction.” She was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, on January 28, 1946. She was married four times, had three children and like many of her characters, developed chronic alcoholism and made several suicide attempts. She suffered from deteriorating health, including deafness in one ear and blindness in one eye with incipient glaucoma in the other. However, she died apparently of natural causes shortly before her fiftieth birthday in 1957.
TRIVIA: Name the movie star who introduced “Possum UP a Gum Stump”. Give up? It was none other than Marjorie Main, who hilariously rasps out this amusing ditty in tonight’s film Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone.
In the forties, Stuart Palmer joined Craig Rice, who was also working at RKO in the story department, and they wrote a series of short stories which united their detectives Hildegarde Withers and J.J. Malone, respectively. MGM decided to make a film using the characters. But after purchasing the screen rights, studio rewrites altered the characters so that Hildegarde became Mrs. O’Malley, portrayed by Marjorie Main in a backwoods role similar to her Ma Kettle characterization, while Malone was played by James Whitmore.
Marjorie plays a Proudfoot, Montana housewife who has won the Treasure Ship radio contest by properly identifying the phantom tune “Possum Up a Gum Stump”. She is heading east to collect her prize. At the Chicago stopover, criminal lawyer Whitmore boards the train, hoping to track down some criminals who know the whereabouts of hidden money. Also on board are Fred Clark, the District Attorney Office investigator; Douglas Fowley, just released from prison and out to find the missing money; Ann Dvorak, Fowley’s alimony-hunting ex-wife; Don Porter, Fowley’s slippery ex-boss; Phyllis Kirk, a super secretary; and Dorothy Malone, Porter’s girlfriend. Since Main is also an avid mystery story reader, she and Whitmore get along famously. Before the train reaches New York, two of the passengers are murdered, and Main and Whitmore have to solve the crimes in order to clear themselves.
New York Times reviewer Howard Thompson described Main’s character as “a sanitized Ma Kettle”, and thought that “Ann Dvorak and Fred Clark handle small roles neatly”. But, he decided, “the picture is Whitmore’s. As a dame-chasing tippling young bloodhound who sleeps off an occasional drink under the sheet on a morgue slab and specializes in legal dishonesty, he is something special.”
Notes by Harry Purvis