Tuesday, November 14, 2017

indelible moment: Quine's "It Happened to Jane"

"It Happened to Jane," released by Columbia Pictures during the summer of 1959, is Richard Quine's plucky, affectionate and unabashed tribute to the filmmaker who put Columbia on the map - Frank Capra.

In fact, the film's working title was "Old 97 Goes to Market," a play on two Capra vehicles - "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936) and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), movies of staunch Americana that "Jane" successfully emulates.  While Capra was restricted largely to backlot filmmaking, Quine brought his story of a small-town lobster farmer and her first selectman-boyfriend into the open air of New England (Chester, Connecticut standing in for the fictional Cape Ann, Maine) and with a few vivid vérité touches.

Among the indelible moments in this charming film are an exhilarating town meeting (with all the extras played by Chester residents); the final sequence which includes a performance by the Chester Fife and Drum Corps (which was was formed in 1868 and is still going strong), and a wildly inventive sequence in which Jane Osgood (Doris Day), feeling she needs an answer right now, climbs on the back of the engine of the locomotive Old 97 to coerce her lifelong boyfriend George Denham (Jack Lemmon) into proposing while he is hectically trying to shovel enough coal into Old 97's furnace to keep it moving.  As his Uncle Otis (Russ Brown) testily demands "More steam!," George struggles to divide his attention between the needs of both the speeding train and the impatient Jane.

Because of the din of the rushing, rumbling train, all of the dialogue is shouted and emphatic and George can't quite make out what Jane is trying to say to him. This is vérité at its most vigorous and exhilarating:

Jane: “George!  George!”
George: “What?!” 
Jane: “I think I’m getting married today!” 
George: “What?!” 
Jane: “I said I’m getting married today!”

George:  “Don’t be silly!
Jane: “I am not being silly!”
George:  “What are you talking about?!”
Uncle Otis (to George): “More steam!” 

George (trying to listen to both Uncle Otis and Jane): “What?! What?!!”
Jane: "Lawrence Clayborn Hall is waiting for me in Marshalltown and I am going to marry him!"
George:  “Just like that?!”
Jane:  “No, not  just  like that, George .  He asked me!”
Uncle Otis (to George):  “George, More steam! Steam!”  
George: “After knowing you for four days, he asked you to marry him?  I think he’s probably asked every girl he ever knew to marry him!  He’s neurotic or something.  If you remember correctly, I asked you to marry me 21 years ago!”
Jane:  “Yes, and you haven’t asked me since!”
George:  “What?!” 
Jane: “I’m a woman and I’m supposed to be married!   I’m a mother and I need a man to take care of me and my children!”
George: “You don’t have to go to Marshalltown to find one!”  

Jane: “Don’t I, George?”
George: “No!”
Jane: “Where can I find one?”
George: “You don’t have to go anywhere!  You can stay right in Cape Ann!”
Jane: “Can I, George?”
George: “You know you can!”
Jane: “Do I?” (a pause)  “Well, say it! Can’t you just say it?”
George: “Say what?!”
Jane: “Say anything!  Why can’t you be neurotic like Larry and say you’ll marry me?!”
George: “Well, you know I will!”
Jane:  “Oh, George!  You proposed!”

Uncle Otis (to George):  “More steam!”
George (murmurs to Uncle Otis): “Yeah, wait.”
Jane:George!  George!  You did!  You proposed!  George!”
George stops to climb up to where Jane is to kiss her.
Uncle Otis (to George):  “We need more coal!”
Jane (giddy with delight): “George, I love you!”
George climbs back down.
George (to Jane): “I love you!”
George (to Uncle Otis):  “What coal?”
Jane (again, giddy with delight): “George, I love you!”
George (to Jane): “I Love you!
George (to Uncle Otis):  “No coal!
Uncle Otis (quoting Teddy Roosevelt): “Bully!”
*   *   *
 A few notes on "It Happened to Jane"...
It's been rumored, falsely, that Harry Foster Malone, the monied villain played by Ernie Kovacs in “It Happened to Jane,," was modeled after Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941).

It's an easy assumption to make.  While the character's middle name, Foster, was probably borrowed from Welles, the name Harry itself actually comes from ... Harry Cohn, the legendary head of Columbia Pictures, which produced and released "It Happened to Jane."

True, the name Foster seems to be a dead giveaway but it's also a distraction. While we were working on a book together, Jack Lemmon told me that Kovacs' Harry Foster Malone was based directly on Cohn, who died while Lemmon, Kovacs and Quine were making "Bell, Book and Candle" the year before. Kovacs affected Cohn's look for his wicked impersonation by donning a bald plate for the film and gaining 40 pounds.

He also appropriated Cohn's infamously foul-tempered, autocractic and abrasive personality for the role.  There's really nothing of Charles Foster Kane in Kovacs' movie-stealing performance.

Did he get the joke? No problem. Cohn, as noted, died on February 27, 1958, during the filming of "Bell, Book and Candle"; "It Happened to Jane" went into production June 2, 1958 and ended shooting July 31 of that year.

Nevertheless, the Kovacs-Welles rumor has persisted, supported surprisingly by Turner Movie Classics which is usually never less than fastidious in its research.  I watch "Jane" whenever Turner airs it - I love the film - and in the introductions to the movie by Ben Mankiewicz, the source of Kovacs' performance is invariably misidentified.
As noted earlier, "It Happened to Jane" started life as "Old 97 Goes to Market," originally positioned as another Lemmon-Quine collaboration with Jack in the role of a young widower with two children who raises lobsters for a living and has political aspirations in the small town where he lives.

I've no idea when it morphed into a Doris Day vehicle but both Quine and Lemmon were eager to work with her.

The film would go through more title changes - "Miss Casey Adams" and "As Jane Goes (As Maine Goes)"- before the studio settled on "It Happened to Jane."  No one involved in the film particularly liked that moniker but it lent itself to a terrific, catchy title song by Joe Lubin (who worked often with Doris Day) and Irvin J. Roth (aka, Adam Ross), sung by Day over the main credits.

The movie was in post-production when the studio came up with yet another title, "That Jane from Maine," and had the composers rewrite "It Happened to Jane," changing the lyric but retaining the music.  (That version of the song remained unreleased until it popped up on a Day album and subsequent CD; it can currently be heard on the CD, "Golden Girl.") But there was a problem: While "That Jane from Maine" was a better title, "It Happened to Jane" was the better song.  So back to the original.

At least,I think that's the song/title chronology.  It's madding.

In the meantime, Columbia had commissioned Marvin H. Albert to write a novelization of Norman Katkov and Max Wilk's script.  The book was printed and ready to go under the title "That Jane from Maine" - it was too late to change - while the film went into theaters as "It Happened to Jane."

There were some theaters which sold copies of the softback novelization at their concession stands, certainly confusing their patrons.

"It Happened to Jane" was a good film that came at the wrong time for everyone concerned - its two stars, the public and the critics, who hastily dismissed it.  Both Lemmon and Day were at the crossroads in their respective careers and "Jane," released in June of 1959, just didn't seem to fit in.  Lemmon had a personal triumph three months earlier in March in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" (which was actually shot after "Jane") and Day was poised to reveal a major makeover with the October release of Michael Gordon's "Pillow Talk." Both were frank, sexed-up films.

By comparison, "It Happened to Jane" seemed a tad old-fashioned.

And a little square.

"Some Like It Hot" and "Pillow Talk" brought both Lemmon and Day well-deserved Oscar nominations as best actor and best actress.  Impressed by this and in an effort to salvage "It Happened to Jane," Columbia re-released the film in 1960, shortly after the Oscarcast and before the Summer release of Lemmon's next big Oscar-bait hit, "The Apartment." And, yes, there was yet another title - and another title song (credited to "By" Dunham) - "Twinkle and Shine." But it was too late.

It would take"It Happened to Jane" several decades before it was recognized as the smart, alert farce that it is or before its undervalued maker, Richard Quine, would be appreciated as an auteur.

I may be a majority of one but it's my opinion that the train sequence showcased at the start of this essay is as good as anything that Billy Wilder gave Lemmon to do in "Some Like It Hot" or "The Apartment," or that Day got to do in "Pillow Talk" and her subsequent modern comedies.

Note in Passing: The location shooting of "It Happened to Jane in Chester was so pleasant and memorable that co-star Casey Adams (aka, Max Showalter), 1917-2000,  purchased an 18th-century farmhouse and settled there, becoming involved in the local theater in his later years.
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* * * * *
(from top)

~Title credit for "It Happened to Jane"

~Assorted still shots from the film's train sequence 

~Publicity shot of Ernie Kovacs as Harry Foster Malone

~14x22 window card for "It Happened to Jane"

~Cover for Marvin H. Albert novelization of the film's screenplay, then titled "That Jane from Maine" 

~14x22 window card for the film's re-release under the title "Twinkle and Shine"

~Publicity shot of Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter)

~End credit for "It Happened to Jane"

~photography: Columbia 1959©


Griff said...

I don't doubt what you say (of course), but I think there is something of the late-in-life C.F. Kane in Kovacs' performance as Malone. I've felt that since I was a little boy, anyway.

joe baltake said...

I'm sure the middle name of Foster is no accident, Griff. I'm just reporting what Jack Lemmon told me and, given that he, Kovacs and Quine were every close - and given that all three had first-hand (and not always pleasant) dealings with Cohn, I see no reason to doubt what he told me. As I said in my piece, the name "Foster" is a huge distraction.

Alex said...

You're right. A fine comedy whose time has come. Finally. Lemmon characteristically blends angst and desire to the point of near-delerium. It's one of his best,unhearalded performances, up there with his work in "The Apartment." Personally, I think he worked better with Quine than with Wilder. He and Quine seemed more like soul mates.

joe baltake said...

Jack is less showy, more naturalistic in his Quine films than he is in any of his Wilders, where he often veered off into caricature. Not a bad thing. I always find Lemmon appealing. But he's so wonderful when he's low-keyed and less wound-up.

Tom Worrell said...

Encouraging post. Thanks. I look to it as a good source for not only further Quine study, but insights into the ever-underrated Doris Day.

jan said...

I always loved the title song from "It Happened to Jane." It's so much like Doris Day herself - likable and positive. You mention that the replacement song, "That Jane from Maine," was recorded and included on a couple Day albums and CDs. Was "It Happened to Jane" ever recorded? I'd love to be able to hear it again and again and get to know the lyric better. Thanks!

joe baltake said...

Jan- Both "It Happened to Jane" and "Be Prepared" (the song played during the cub scout cookout) were recorded by Day for an extended play record. To the best of my knowledge, however, "It Happened to Jane" never made a Day album. Which is kinda strange.

As for the song's lyric, here goes:

"Love can be stormy or filled with sun.
Full of sadness or with fun.
It's a thrill when you're the lucky one - it happened to Jane!

"Love can be tender or even cruel.
Make the wise man such a fool.
But there's one exception to the rule - it happened to Jane!

"Love is like an april shower.
It takes you unaware.
Love is like a summer flower.
It needs a lot of care!

"Love can be cold or warm as spring.
High and low just like a swing.
It can end up with a wedding ring.
It happened to...
It happened to Jane!"

Lisa said...

I think that both you and Ben are correct. I've read where Ernie Kovacs based his performance as Harry Foster Malone on Harry Cohn. But the middle name Foster definitely comes from "Citizen Kane." Just sayin'.

a.n. said...

I loved this movie from the day I saw it as a kid in school...thank you so very much for all your insight. Jack and Doris both liked this movie, both say so in their own biographies. Doris even pointed out in a radio interview that the title was a mistake.
She also teared up reading Jack had mentioned in print when asked who his favorite leading lady had been without hesitation, he replied, Doris Day. Doris did radio interviews from Carmel on her Birthday several years until the station owners changed and the new owners were no longer playing retro music. The interview I recall her saying this was on the Nancy Sinatra radio show on Serius. It showed up as a clip on You Tube. I wish DD and JL had worked together again. Both were capable comics and dramatic actors so a little of both mixed up would have been a great idea in my opinion. Thanks again for this great story and pictures. As you said the Train sequence was simply wonderful. Doris in a white dress in a coal car...genius.

mike schlesinger said...

And of course, Broderick Crawford modeled his performance as Harry Brock in BORN YESTERDAY on you-know-who.

Semi-funny story: While I was at Sony, I was looking over DVD sales figures for catalog titles, and JANE was literally ten times higher than all the others. I said, "This is a typo, right?" She replied, "No, that's correct." I asked, "How can this be ten times higher than all the others?" She said, "Oh, Wal-Mart ordered all those other copies. Is there anything about that movie that would appeal to Wal-Mart customers?" I shouted, 'YEAH! DORIS FUCKING DAY!!!" And yet they deep-sixed my planned Lucille Ball Centennial box set because "she's just another dead actress." I can't even begin to imagine how many copies Wal-Mart would have ordered on that one.

Brian Lucas said...

JANE lacks that truly dark strain that makes Capra's supposed "corn" so resonant (lobster activists may disagree!), but it's pretty effective as a David vs. Goliath yarn and it's cleverly plotted and perfectly charming. Day and Lemmon make a surprisingly good match, perhaps because their romantic relationship is almost completely repressed until literally the last possible moment.

jeannie said...

love this movie! My favorite scene is the one close to the end, with the town meeting and the doofus First Selectman Aaron Caldwell. So true to small towns and personal politicking.

wwolfe said...

I don't know if jan will ever see this, but the recording "It Happened to Jane" is on the boxed set "Que Sera: Doris Day 1956-1959," according to the All Music web site.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Bill. Good to know.

rsmith said...

I'm sorry to say that the only thing I really enjoyed about this movie was watching a childhood friend, Teddy Rooney, on the little screen. In 1959 my family and I were living in Studio City and Teddy and I were in the same 4th grade class at Carpenter Ave. Elementary. He also performed on Dick Clark's Bandstand. Who can forget "Bite Your Tongue?" His mom threw the best Halloween Party I've ever been to featuring her boyfriend, an actor whose name I can't recall, in full cowboy regalia. To me, Teddy was a better friend than an actor/singer. Somehow I lost the 45 of his single which he gave me. rsmith

Unknown said...

I have not yet seen this movie, but I do have a question. When they were filming this in Chester, CT, a 49 Dodge truck was used in it which belonged to my Great-Grandfather. I have been trying to find a simple picture of his truck and have had no luck as of yet. Does anyone know how I could find a picture? It's a funny story that I heard of when I was a child how Doris Day and Jack Lemmon were walking on the road one day in town, and my Grandfather, Grandmother and my Mom happened to be driving down that road, when my Grandpa yelled at them for walking in the road! He was silly like that too, but it got me thinking about it, and I didn't realize until now, my Great Grandfather's truck had been used in the filming. I found it interesting to try and search for a pic of his old truck. I just can't seem to find one! If anyone has any thoughts, I would be happy to know how to go about finding one! Thanks all!

joe baltake said...

Hi Kimberly- Great story! My suggestion is that you purchase a DVD of the film, watch it and see if you spot your grandfather's old Dodge in it. If you see it, you can play the film on your computer, stop the film at that point and capture the image, which you can then store in your photo file and eventually make a paper copy of it. If you don't have the capability of doing that, there are services which can. Anyway, having the movie disc with your grandfather's truck on it is also as good as having a photo. Plus, it's a terrific film that I think you'll enjoy, worth adding to your DVD library. -J

Ann N. said...

Most rail buffs in New England point to the similarity of the railroad president character to the late Patrick B. McGinnis, president of the New Haven Railroad and later the Boston & Maine Railroad. He was known for gutting both railroads in order to make money for stockholders. He sold off all the depot buildings and put up cheap plastic bus stop shelters. He cut back passenger service on many lines and sold off passenger coaches to foreign countries, taking a kickback in the bargain. He was tried for that and spent some time in prison!
Both PBM and HFM looked similar! Google him.

joe baltake said...

Ann! Thanks for the heads-up. I will. -J