Saturday, April 04, 2009

It Happened to Jane (1959)

Through my religious devotion to Dave Kehr's comments section, I've discovered a lot of undervalued films. First it was the work of Robert Mulligan, whose Kent Jones-curated retrospective at the Film Society at Lincoln Center is one of my film year's major highlights (The Nickel Ride is a beautifully modulated L.A. noir, The Stalking Moon a gestural, existential western, and re-viewing To Kill a Mockingbird was equally revelatory). The fact that Mr. Jones has left the Film Society is a bummer, as he was the driving force behind the "American Auteurs" series of which the Mulligan series was the first. It's unclear if others will follow, but according to my sources, a Richard Quine series was in the pipeline, another favorite with Kehr's commenters. This might be a casualty of Jones' departure, but that's no reason to watch more Quine!

After being thoroughly charmed by the musical My Sister Eileen (1955) earlier this year on TCM, I recorded his 1959 Doris Day vehicle, It Happened to Jane. Let's just say he's 2 for 2. Set in a small Maine town, Day plays a widow starting up in the lobster business. Jack Lemmon is her pal from childhood, a mild-mannered lawyer who keeps losing the race for city Selectman. It's a colorful, exuberant farce. Day sues the train company after it is late with a delivery, killing all of the crustaceans on board. This small suit rapidly escalates into front page news after the train prez (a sublimely cantankerous Ernie Kovacs doing his best Harry Cohn impression) and Doris refuse to settle. She gets the court to seize the train, and soon she's on TV pleading her case.

Quine has a great feel for small-town life, using locals for town hall scenes, and sketching loving portraits of everyone from the railroad agent to the incompetent incumbent Selectman. Combined with his flair for caricature and elegantly framed compositions (he generates a wonderful sense of community from crane shots as well), the film is consistently surprising and engaging. TCM has been showing his films pretty regularly, so I'll be quick on the DVR trigger from now on, and hope that the Film Society slots him into their schedule.


My last two posts at TCM:

*On Sam Fuller's Thieves After Dark
On William Wellman's Other Men's Women



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