Day and Lemmon charm in... It Happened to Jane (1959)

In the town of Cape Anne, Maine, widow Jane Osgood (Doris Day) tries to support herself and her two small children by raising and selling lobsters. Unfortunately, her first major order is sent back after the lobsters arrived at their destination dead. When Jane discovers the railroad, Eastern & Portland, let the shipment sit all weekend rather than delivering it immediately, she angrily writes to them. E&P's new owner Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs) agrees to let his lawyers present a check to Jane, especially since his recent changes to the railroad were definitely at fault. However, Jane refuses their money because her reputation and business prospects were harmed by their mistake. A battle between E&P and Jane quickly develops and soon the whole nation is taking sides.

If you've seen It Happened to Jane before, you might notice its similarities to Frank Capra's more famous films. The small town, the David and Goliath-like story, and the honest hero are all hallmarks of that delicious stuff known as Capra-corn. As Jane, Doris Day is very much like Jefferson Smith, Longfellow Deeds, and George Bailey in her goodness, sincerity, and morality. (Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, why didn't Capra make films with Day in the '50s and '60s like he did with Jimmy Stewart in the '30s and '40s?)

It Happened to Jane was a perfect fit for Day, personally and professionally. She was able to work with children and animals, which she always loved. It's also a film that worked well with her persona. Jane is a sunny, loving person, but try to walk all over her and you'll come face to face with one fierce woman. Her fight against the railroad is admirable and, like so many of Day's characters, you'd love for her to be your best friend.

Jane is so lovely, in fact, that she has two men in love with her, reporter Larry (Steve Forrest) and lawyer George (Jack Lemmon!). When Jane's story starts to gain attention, Larry is sent from New York to Cape Anne to interview Jane. As she shows him around town, Larry is struck by how genuine and warm she is. Later, when Jane goes to New York for a few days to generate publicity, Larry escorts her everywhere. Before she leaves, he admits his feelings and asks her to marry him. Larry is nice, but Jane needs a few days to consider it.

She wouldn't have needed those days, however, if it hadn't been for
George. Sweet, adorable George. The dynamic between these two is quite something. They've been best friends ever since childhood, along with Jane's late husband, Hank. George has harbored a crush on Jane for years, but he has never been able to act on it. There's an unspoken connection there, however. Her kids love him. They lead the local Cub Scouts troop together and duet on the Scout song "Be Prepared." They seem to spend every day with one another. They reminisce about old times and fondly remember Hank. When they finally kiss, you feel like cheering.

It should come as no surprise that Jack Lemmon is a complete scene-stealer in this movie. He just has so many good scenes! My favorite might just be when the town has a meeting and they blame Jane for Harry Foster Malone's actions against Cape Anne. Jane tearfully leaves, causing George to chastise the townsfolk for their behavior. From the first moment we met George, we knew he was a mild-mannered guy, someone who has been trying to become First Selectman for years but has never been able to show people why he deserves the position thanks to his timidity. After passionately defending Jane, Cape Anne has no doubt that they've found their new First Selectman.

Another favorite Lemmon scene is when Jane tries to figure out how George feels about her by telling him that she is going to marry Larry. He is dumbfounded that she would consider marrying the reporter after only knowing him for four days, but she replies that her children need a father and she wants a husband. George then points out that he proposed to her 21 years ago (when they were 12!). "But you haven't done it since!" Jane remarks. I won't spoil the rest of it, except to say that it's pretty darn cute. You can watch the scene here.

The best thing about It Happened to Jane is undoubtedly the partnership of Day and Lemmon. I'm not exaggerating when I say that they were perfect together. It's a travesty that they never collaborated again, especially since they loved working with each other. Lemmon called the experience "a pleasure" and said the film was "a charming picture, made when you could still do charming films." He believed it was "a good, funny movie. ... I felt Doris and I had very good chemistry together, and I regret that we never made another film." In her autobiography, Day wrote that although the film wasn't very successful, she was "grateful" to have done it "for Jack and I became friends and we saw each other socially over the ensuing years. Jack is a disarming and charming man, and a gut actor with a natural sense of comedy -- very challenging to work with." The actress discusses Lemmon some more in this incredible video she made for TCM a few years ago.

Although it was set in Maine, It Happened to Jane was filmed in picturesque Chester, Connecticut. Everyone loved the place -- Day called it "a regular Garden of Eden" and one of the actors, Max Showalter (Niagara), actually moved there some time later. Friends Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, and director Richard Quine roomed together in a 17th century house during production. Every day at 3 o'clock, Quine would release everyone for the day. While many cast and crew members would go trout fishing, Lemmon would go back to his room to practice on his electric piano. He even wore headphones so as not to disturb anyone. (To learn more about Lemmon's musical abilities -- including the album he released! -- check out this post from Once Upon a Screen here.)

For fans of old TV, this film is a treat. During her trip to New York, Jane appears on several real TV shows, including Youth Wants to Know and The Big Payoff. There is also a scene where she guests on I've Got a Secret, complete with host Gary Moore and a panel comprised of Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Betsy Palmer. I must admit that I'm not very familiar with these programs, but I do enjoy this slice of classic television. And I just love these candid shots of Doris on the set of I've Got a Secret!

Speaking of classic TV, the movie's villain is played by early television royalty Ernie Kovacs. The comedian was a beloved figure and he would go on to inspire the likes of Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, Chevy Chase, Johnny Carson, and many others. For the role of Harry Foster Malone, Kovacs gained 40 pounds, wore a bald cap, and endlessly smoked cigars while snarling his dialogue. (Some actually say the character was based on Citizen Kane's Charles Foster Kane. The resemblance is there, but I'm not sure if it was purposeful or not.)

As I mentioned before, Kovacs and Lemmon were great friends, and they had co-starred together before in the previous year's Bell, Book, and Candle. In 1961, while appearing on an episode of What's My Line? the two men talked about their upcoming project The Notorious Landlady, a wonderful mystery-comedy that would have paired the actors with Richard Quine for the third time. Sadly, before production began, Kovacs was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 42. His wife, Edie Adams, was too inconsolable to identify his body, so Lemmon did it for her and was later one of the pallbearers. The Notorious Landlady was filmed with Fred Astaire in Kovacs's role.

Despite being a good old-fashioned comedy, It Happened to Jane was a box-office disappointment. Both Day and Lemmon thought the problem was with the title. Day herself said the film was "pert and funny, but whether it was the insipid title or something else, it just didn't make it." Columbia Pictures had a hell of a time trying to decide on its name -- during production it had been called That Jane from Maine, but in Europe and during its 1961 re-release it was titled Twinkle and Shine, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything.

I'll admit that this movie isn't one of my favorites; I don't even think I would classify it as one of my favorite Day or Lemmon films. However, it's a nice piece of entertainment and I'll forever cling to it since it is the only teaming of Day and Lemmon, also known as two of the actors I adore the most in this world. I'm actually quite honored to say that I received an autographed photo from Ms. Day last year. When I sent her a letter, I figured it was a long shot asking for an autograph, especially since she has been somewhat reclusive for the past few decades. Every day I look at this photo, I feel like grinning. (I know some people claim that their mailed autographs were done by a secretary, but I've done a lot of comparing mine with the real thing and I'm convinced it came from Day's hand. If you think otherwise, I don't want to hear it. Let me live in my bubble!)

Ms. Day, you're simple one of the best. Although I'm a few days early, I would love to wish you the happiest of birthdays!

__________________

This is my entry to my second Doris Day Blogathon. Celebrate the dear lady by checking out the other tributes here!

Comments

  1. I've loved this movie since childhood and find a reason to watch it every so often. Doris and Jack are adorable, and the whole setting is so comfortable.

    PS: For another Quine-Lemmon-Kovacs get together check out Operation Mad Ball, a Service comedy that isn't entirely successful, but has its own quirky charm for fans.

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    1. It does feel very cozy, doesn't it? The cast and the setting make things feel realistic.

      Operation Mad Ball has been on my list for years! I've been hoping that TCM would air it, but no such luck yet.

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  2. This is a film which definitely should be better known. I had never even heard of it before catching it on TCM a couple of years ago. I adore Doris Day comedies and really enjoy her in this. And I agree with you about her pairing with Lemmon. It really is a shame they didn't make more films together. I love his speech at the end about civic pride and duty. I actually just purchased it on DVD so I can watch it any time I want.

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    1. Doris Day comedies are my happy place. And then you add in Jack Lemmon and it just gets better! Glad to see you enjoy this one, too!

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  3. Shamefully, for being such a big Doris Day fan and for having seen over 30 of her movies, I have not seen this one yet. But it sounds lovely, especially with that cast! Jack Lemmon and Doris Day just sound like a sweet, irresistible combination. Your blogathon has sent me on a dash to (re)watch so many of her films. Thanks so much!

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    1. I know what you mean. I'm a huge Day fan too (obviously), but there are still a handful of films I haven't watched yet. "Sweet" and "irresistible" describe her and Lemmon to a T. I hope you enjoy this one whenever you see it!

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  4. I've never seen all of this movie, only bits here and there, but I do like the Doris-Jack pairing. They really did have wonderful chemistry. Also, I agree with your observation re: Jack as scene stealer. He truly is!

    Thank you for hosting this blogathon and this well-deserved tribute to Doris Day. :)

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    1. It's a cute movie, and Lemmon is superb as always. It takes quite a strong screen presence to take your eyes from Day, that's for sure!

      It was my pleasure entirely! Day deserves nothing but the best, and this blogathon is just my small way of paying her back for all of the joy she's given me. :)

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  5. Oh how did I miss reading this post? I want to see this movie as it does seem like one of those great Doris Day comedies!! I also think it would be a good way to watch more Jack Lemmon so its a win win! Plus Steve Forrest (I love brother Dana!0 is in it too??? WATCH LIST it goes!

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    1. It's a fun one! And I completely forgot Steve Forrest was Dana's brother! I kept thinking "Why does his name sound so familiar?" Mystery solved! I like his character a lot, but he's no match for Jack Lemmon's.

      Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy this film whenever you see it!

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