Every now and then casting directors strike gold. When you take two of cinema’s best character players and put them in the leading roles of a fast moving murder mystery with a slant towards comedy, we the viewers get a winning formula.
How about Marjorie Main and James Whitmore.
The film starts much like a Ma and Pa Kettle film. Main is living in Proudfoot Montana and wins a radio contest from New York. She names the tune “Possum up a Gumstump.” This nets her 50K and a trip to the Big Apple. As for Whitmore, he’s a lawyer who goes where the money is. Chases women at the drop of a hat which includes his secretary Phyllis Kirk and has been on a bender while his debtors are hunting him down to collect on the bad checks and IOU’s he’s passed around.
With Main passing through Chicago enroute to New York they cross paths in a swank nightclub where Whitmore is supposed to collect ten grand from a recent parolee. It seems that Douglas Fowley may have 100 grand stashed away that he has done time for and everybody wants a cut of it. Whitmore wants his retainer, Ann Dvorak wants alimony from her ex Fowley and Detective Fred Clark wants the whole stash returned to it’s rightful owner. The bank.
It turns out that Main is a avid reader of the magazine Foremost Detective Stories and recognizes Whitmore as a contributor to the tales of murder and detection. She’s even more excited when he winds up on her train heading to New York. It turns out everyone catches a ride on this train. It seems Fowley has jumped parole and is heading to the coast. Along for the ride are our aforementioned group as well as the woman Fowley is planning to run away with, Dorothy Malone. It seems they have the cash and it’s her hubby they stole it from.
No one on the train can seem to find Fowley and when Main and Whitmore call it a night and head for their berths they finally locate him. He’s in Main’s room with a knife in his back! Now the fun really begins as our two unlikely sleuths decide to move the body only to find it’s returned with another murder victim for good measure. It’s all going to wind up with a madcap chase with Main and Whitmore joined at the wrists. In handcuffs.
At a running time of 69 minutes this programmer from MGM is time well spent. It’s not often we can see a couple of supporting pros take the lead and yet be joined by a variety of other well known faces.
James Whitmore really does have that dog faced Spencer Tracy look about him. I love it when secretary Kirk points out he wears a 25 dollar suit with a forty dollar tie.
Marjorie Main will always be Ma Kettle for me and even as I write this I keep wanting to refer to her as Ma. Truly one of the great character actresses to grace the screen. She even treats us to a stage number in this one.
Norman Taurog directed this title. Here’s a fellow who gave us everything from Tracy in Boys Town and it’s sequel to winding down his career working on nine Elvis films.
The next time this one turns up on TCM set the time aside to enjoy it.
Whitmore was totally miscast – his comedy was forced and unremarkable. I just couldn’t buy him, and I squirmed throughout the movie despite the wonderful Marjorie Main.
Sorry you feel that way about it. I generally like Whitmore and thought he was going for that dog faced Spencer Tracy feel. Agree on Main though. Rarely is she less than wonderful.