“It Happened to Jane” (1959) leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling about small towns, lobsters, and trains. The leads Doris Day and Jack Lemmon are delightful in their chemistry, their comedy, and their ability to convey poignancy in their seemingly hopeless financial -- and romantic -- situation. Ernie Kovacs gives a tour-de-force performance as a greedy railroad owner with the aplomb of Snidely Whiplash.
The real star, many would agree, is the location shooting. Set in the fictional coastal Maine town of Cape Ann, it was really shot in the Connecticut River Valley town of Chester, Connecticut. Have a look at my Tuesday’s New England Travels blog for photos of what shooting locations in the movie look like today. Not a lot has changed in 50 years.
By the way, in this movie they sometimes refer to a nearby town called High River. In reality, Chester’s neighbor is Deep River.
In Dan Widener’s “Lemmon - A Biography” (NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1975), Jack Lemmon is quoted as recalling “It Happened to Jane” as “…a charming picture made when you could still do charming films.” (p.162).
This comment boils down, I think, the essence of the appeal this movie has for viewers today. It seems to document a time for us when childhood summers were lush and long, and Norman Rockwell-type towns were idealized.
It also documents for us, unwittingly, the beginning of the age when railroad companies began to cut down their service in an effort to force passengers away so that they could eventually drop passenger service as being less profitable than carrying freight. We discussed this on Monday’s post in “The Out of Towners” (1970) -- which graphically demonstrates the hell of train travel when it hit rock bottom in the last days when railroad companies were privately owned and bent on scuttling themselves. What happened next was the founding of Amtrak, and a new era in passenger train service.
This Saturday the 12th marks the 5th annual National Train Day in celebration of our national railroad. Have a look here for events and information.
The beginning of the end of private railroads -- that led to Jack Lemmon’s and Sandy Dennis’ hysterically horrible train ride -- all starts, it seems, over ten years earlier with Doris Day and her lobsters.
It’s Jack, frantic, and trying to reach Doris for the 100th time.
Jack is the local small-town lawyer and routinely defeated candidate for selectman. He becomes Doris’ ally and advocate when she attempts to sue the railroad for damages.
“Niagara” (1953) covered here. In later years, Adams went by his real name, Max Showalter. Like the rest of the cast, he was quite taken with the Chester, Connecticut filming locations. He eventually came back and settled in the Chester area in an old farmhouse.
When he died, he left his collection of film and theatre memorabilia to the famed Goodspeed Opera House (pictured here just up the river in East Haddam) and the newly established Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre.
Doris Day thought that Chester was a “regular Garden of Eden” -- in an interview with Joe De Bona in the Bridgeport, Connecticut Sunday Herald of July 29, 1962 -- “…although there were too many lobsters in the picture to suit me.
“I don’t like lobsters much, and in that picture with Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs, I was in the lobster business. When they -- the lobsters -- looked at me with those beady eyes! Ugh! But I sure am crazy about Connecticut.”
Doris and Ernie wrangle legally about the railroad’s responsibilities until he cuts off service to the town, leaving them stranded. Though Mr. Kovacs’ character is obviously a silly cartoon, we note in Monday’s post on the train sequence in “The Out of Towners” (1970) and the establishment of Amtrak, that it was the goal of privately owned railroad companies to diminish passenger service in favor of more profitable freight lines.
“You can’t continue to run roughshod over the consumer,” he is advised. Oh, yes, he can.
“Every time one of your crummy commuters gets on my train it costs me four cents!”
Mr. Lemmon has a good line which he says with all the cynicism of his later character in “The Out of Towners” - “The distance between the right and the practical is a shame to the human race.”
When they need coal to run the train, they all scavenge some from their own coal bins. You may recall that in mid-20th century most homes and businesses in this country were heated by coal.
Steve is big city boy, a smooth operator and he falls for Doris. She is charmed by him, and flattered by the attention. The dazed, sickened expression on Jack Lemmon’s face when it hits him that he’s in a recurring nightmare of losing Doris to another man is really quite sad.
Meanwhile, Jack, left at home with the kids, is flipping out of his mind with jealousy. So frustratingly chaste is his relationship with Doris, that when he sleeps over her house to mind the kids while she’s gone, he fidgets for sleep on her couch. Apparently occupying her bed even when she’s not there is too forward for Jack. Or the censors.
We note the real-life locations in Tuesday’s New England Travels, but here we catch a clue to our Connecticut location with the presence of the television crew from WTIC- Channel 3, the CBS Hartford station.
Jack eventually comes into his own as the hero of the day in a last-minute suspenseful train run on “Old ‘97”, Doris is a genuine heroine to the nation of TV fans, and even Ernie turns out to be a hero in the end.
Have yourself a happy National Train Day this Saturday. Make your next trip by train, and support the future of passenger rail service in this country.
Or, just celebrate by cuddling up to a train.
One that isn’t moving.