"A delightful blend
of Ealing comedy and Capra-esque social satire." - BBC Radio Times
Doris Day and Jack Lemmon - a magic pairing...
Why this picture received lackluster attention from audiences has long been speculated. Many critics, who loved the picture, blamed it on the title, which they felt was awful. Columbia seemed confused at what to call it. In production, it had been labeled "That Jane From Maine" and later, in Europe, its title was changed to "Twinkle and Shine". Perhaps they should have called it "Jane's War" or "The Lobster Chronicles".
The important fact is, quite frankly, that this film should have been a hit. It had all of the elements for big box-office. It had Doris Day in the leading role and two terrific co-stars with the marvelous, Jack Lemmon and the very funny, Ernie Kovacs. Also, a top flight supporting cast, a good old-fashioned come-from-behind story and beautiful location photography in picturesque Maine. It was filmed in Technicolor and CinemaScope and got unanimous praise from the critics. Well, I suppose it was that awful title!
The film centers on Jane Osgood, a widow with two children who runs a struggling lobster business in Maine. She has entrusted her shipment to the Eastern and Portland Railroad to deliver her live lobsters to nearby customers but hits a snag when the train is re-routed from its original destination and the lobsters are returned to Cape Ann, dead on arrival. Harry Foster Malone (Kovacs) has taken over the railroad and has new ideas of what to do with it. Delivering lobsters is not in his plan. He envisions making a lot more money by modernizing the freight train into a fancy commuter liner, forgetting the local people who depend on Old 97 to keep their businesses afloat.
Enraged, Jane solicits the assistance of old friend, George Denham (Lemmon) who is a local lawyer running for public office. He assures Jane that her case is "open and shut" and that she will easily get her money for the ill-fated shipment. Meanwhile, in New York (the shot shows Grand Central Station with no Pan Am building hovering above it! Oh, yeah, this was 1959) Malone's board of directors acknowledge liability on Jane's claim and decide to present her with a check, in person, on behalf of public relations. The check is for $700, the price of the dead lobsters. Jane refuses to sign a receipt for she feels that her chance for a successful season of selling has been ruined by this fiasco. Refusing to pay Jane more, the lawyers for E & P leave with a "see you in court" and their check for $700.
Doris Day prepares for the scene below - note that the lobby card uses the earlier title, "Twinkle and Shine".
In court, Jane wins her case, but Malone's lawyers warn that they will appeal the case in a higher court. Firstly, Jane gets a Writ of Execution against the railroad, and seizes Old 97. This starts a war between small-town businesswoman, Jane Osgood with her one lawyer and corporate executive, Harry Malone and his 25 lawyers. After local newspaper woman/switchboard operator, Matilda Runyon (Mary Wickes) tips off the New York papers that Jane has one of Malone's trains, the story goes national. One reporter, Larry Hall (Steve Forrest) decides to write a human-interest story on Jane, but begins to fall in love with the attractive local. As a result of the publicity, orders for lobsters pour in but the good news doesn't last long. Malone fights back by demanding rent for the tracks that Old 97 sits on, $1.00 per foot, or $230 by the next day. To pay Malone, Hall suggests that Jane accept the many offers to appear on TV, and at the same time, give Malone a dose of his own medicine, publicly, on national television.
In New York, Jane appears on the popular television shows, Youth Wants to Know, The Today Show, The Big Payoff, and I've Got a Secret. During the last show, Malone calls in and offers to cancel the rent and to give Jane Old 97. That evening, after dinner, Hall proposes married to an astonished Jane who promises to "think" about the offer. At home, Jane is hit with a bombshell; Malone has cancelled all railroad service to and from Cape Ann, all but wiping the town off the map. In addition, Jane has 24 hours to get Old 97 off Malone's railroad tracks. Local businesses that depend on the railroad are now threatened with bankruptcy, proving that Jane is, indeed a small fish playing in a big pond.
After an impassioned plea to the townspeople to help Jane fight Malone's Eastern and Portland Railroad, George wins his public office. The town pitches in to get Jane's lobsters delivered, on Old 97, as orders continue flowing in. Fighting back, Malone re-routes all trains, devastating Jane's valiant efforts by sending Old 97 on a wide goose chase. With public opinion against Malone mounting and his employees quitting in disgust, Malone's right hand man finally convinces him to stop this fight. Meanwhile, Hall pressures Jane for an answer to his proposal. Not in love with him, but with George, who asked her to marry him 27 years ago when they were kids, Jane gives George an ultimatum. In a heartwarming scene on Old 97, Jane gets her answer, "Yes", George wants to marry her.
Out of coal and the train stalled, other trains cannot move either. Malone flies in via helicopter to confront Jane in person. He succumbs and gives Jane the coal the train needs and promises to re-route the train so that the lobsters can be delivered on time. They take Malone along to assure that no additional "funny business" occurs. He even shovels coal when George becomes too exhausted.
The film ends with a town celebration for George's election and a surprise gift of a fire truck, courtesy of a now, more human, Harry Malone. This is a charming film. Jack Lemmon is marvelous as the young lawyer who secretly loves Doris Day. This was a magic pairing that warranted repeating with both stars saying they would like to have worked together again. Lemmon had tremendous words of praise for Day as an actress and she of him, calling Jack the "consummate actor". Ernie Kovacs, in one of his rare film roles, was gruff and funny as Malone. He made the best of this role, but didn't get the opportunity to make many more films. Steve Forrest was attractive and romantic in his role and would have made a good match for Doris in another picture. I enjoyed Mary Wickes, as usual. Why aren't there awards for players like her? Russ Brown was good as Uncle Otis as was Casey Adams, Walter Greaza (as lawyers) and Teddy Rooney and Gina Gillespie as Doris' children were appropriately cute.
The real-life celebrities that appeared as themselves were Bill Cullen, Dave Garroway, Steve McCormick, Jayne Meadows, Garry Moore, Henry Morgan, Bob Paige, Betsy Palmer, Bess Myerson and Gene Rayburn as a television reporter. Using local townspeople gave an authenticity to the proceedings and Richard Quine's direction was right on the money with a dandy screenplay by Norman Katkor. Doris Day sang the title song, "It Happened to Jane" and "Be Prepared."
Ralph McKnight, New York, July 2000
Doris Day being lit for a scene in "It Happened to Jane".
"This bright and breezy comedy from the quirky, witty and underrated director Richard Quine stars Doris Day as the "Jane from Maine" who becomes a national heroine when she sues Ernie Kovacs's grasping railroad boss for putting her lobster farm at risk.
Jack Lemmon is on hand as Day's feckless lawyer, but the movie is stolen by Kovacs, whose performance, with hindsight, is clearly a caricature of legendary Columbia Studios head, Harry Cohn. (Did he get the joke?) Despite Doris, this isn't a musical — more a delightful blend of Ealing comedy and Capra-esque social satire."
Jack Lemmon at the home of Doris Day and Martin Melcher.