A delightful and obscure little movie; ‘Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone’ is another of those ‘murder-on-a-train’ mysteries that proved very popular with post-war audiences looking for some easy-going escapism.
When Steve Kepplar (Douglas Fowley), a runaway client of lecherous lawyer J.J Malone (James Whitmore) is murdered on a crowded Chicago-bound train, Malone soon finds himself the chief suspect. After pairing up with sharp-tongued widow Mrs O’Malley (Marjorie Main), this newly-bonded odd couple frantically search the corridors and carriages for the killer, before the law can unfairly nail Malone for the crime.
Based on the short story “Once Upon a Train (The Loco Motive)” by Georgiana Rice, this was the second movie featuring her popular amateur sleuth John J. Malone. Brian Donlevy had taken the role the year before in ‘The Lucky Stiff’ (’49), which is now notable as the legendary Jack Benny’s sole outing as producer.
The unlikely pairing of Marjorie Main and James Whitmore worked very well, and the pair had great chemistry here. Main was in the middle of her outing as the wonderfully bombastic “Ma Kettle” at the time, while James Whitmore was also memorable that year playing the hunchbacked cafe owner in John Huston’s masterful crime flick ‘The Asphalt Jungle’. The supporting cast was very strong, which included Ann Dvorak as Kepplar’s wife, and a blonde-haired Dorothy Malone as his unfortunate floozy. Phyllis Kirk was great fun as Malone’s secretary, who’s forever fending off his advances, and the excellent Fred Clark was on fine form as fellow passenger; detective Marino.
Director Norman Taurog had earlier won an Oscar for the Jackie Cooper comedy ‘Skippy’ (’31), and later had big success with ‘Boys Town’ (’39) which bought Spencer Tracy his second successive Oscar. Taurog later made a handful of Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedies, as well as numerous Elvis Presley vehicles, including G.I. Blues (’60) and ‘Blue Hawaii’ (’61).
More comedy than mystery, ‘Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone’ is a nicely diverting B-movie which, at just over an hour, moves briskly along, and it’s a shame that it didn’t lead to more adventures, which MGM had at one time planned to make more of.