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.
* * * * *
(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 AdamsCasey Adams Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter)

~End credit for "It Happened to Jane"

Sunday, November 12, 2017

character counts: fred clark & larry keating

These two marvelous character actors were nothing alike but shared a common link.

First, meet Fred.

Fred Clark. He of the bald head, mustache, grumpy demeanor and penchant for childish petulance. Fred appeared in about 100 films and TV shows and is perhaps best known as the definitive conservative, Mr. Babcock, in "Auntie Mame" (1958) and Betty Grable's older "gentleman friend" in "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1954).

There were other films - "Don't Go Near the Water" (1957) with Glenn Ford, Jane Russell's "The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown" (also '57), the Pat Boone musical "Mardi Gras" (1958), the Debbie Reynolds duo, "The Mating Game" and "It Started with a Kiss" (both 1959), Jerry Lewis' "A Visit to a Small Planet (1960) and two with Judy Holliday, "The Solid Gold Cadillac" (1956) and "Bells Are Ringing" (1960), to name a few. And Fred was dependably (and delightfully) disagreeable is just about all of them. A real "character."

Then there's Larry.

Larry Keating. Balding (as opposed to bald) and also with a mustache. Impeccably groomed, urbane and erudite, Larry was every inch a gentleman. He was in two 1953 backstage musicals, "She's Back on Broadway" and "Give a Girl a Break." No surprise. Larry could have been the prototype for the wealthy, fatherly Broadway producer who believes in his new show and its big star.

You may also remember him from Fred Astaire's "Daddy Long Legs" (1955), a trio of biopics, "The Eddie Duchin Story" (1956), "The Best Things in Life Are Free" (also '56) and "The Buster Keaton Story" (1957), and "Who Was That Lady?" (1960). He could be dignified and funny - but without ever compromising that dignity.

Clark and Keating were forever linked by their participation on the "Burns and Allen" TV show in the 1950s. Both played the character of George and Gracie's next-door neighbor, Harry Morton (husband of the Bea Benaderet character, Blanche). Clark was the third actor to play the role and Keating followed him as the fourth and final Harry Morton. The cleverly-staged replacement took place between two episodes of the show's 1953 season.

Fred's Harry left the house during an episode titled "Gracie at the Department Store" and Larry's Harry came home the following week in the episode "Morton Buys Iron Deer/Gracie Thinks George Needs Glasses."

During this episode, George Burns walks on set and stops the show just before the new Harry's entrance and explains that Clark had left the show to do a Broadway play ("The Teahouse of the August Moon"). Burns then introduces Keating to Benaderet: "This is Larry Keating and he is going to be your husband now." Keating and Benaderet exchange pleasantries and then continue the scene with Harry coming back home to an angry wife.

At the end of the show, Gracie Allen says to Burns: "You know, George, I've been confused all day. There's something entirely different about Harry Morton this week. I finally figured out what it is. He never wore brown shoes before."  And George replies, "Say goodnight, Gracie."

Of course.

Clark and Keating each brought a different reading to the role of Harry Morton, both memorably so. The two actors would eventually appear together in the 1962 Kim Novak-James Garner comedy, "Boys' Night Out."

For the life of me, I don't understand why Billy Wilder didn't cast these wonderful actors as two of the executives in "The Apartment" (1960).

They would have been perfect, particularly Clark.

Larry Keating passed in 1963 at age 67, before his final film, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" (1964),was released; Fred Clark died in 1968. He was 54 and his last film was Otto Preminger's "Skidoo," released that year.

Note in Passing: Burns' unorthodox introduction of Keating wasn't the first time he interrupted an episode. He earlier stopped the show when Clark was still in the cast. Amusingly, the actors performing in the scene stopped in mid-gesture and "froze" behind Burns for both occasions. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

double take

 ~Peter Lawford and June Allyson dancing in Charles Walters' "Good News"
  ~Location/Time: Campus of Tait College (aka, an MGM backlot) / around noon
~Choreography: Robert Alton 
~Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1947©

~Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing in Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" 
~Location/Time: The Hollywood Hills / around midnight
~Choreography: Mandy Moore
~Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment 2016 ©

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

cinema obscura: two with june allyson

When the eternally youthful, all-American June Allyson died at age 89 on July 8, 2006, most of the coverage was devoted to her team-spirited work at MGM and the various “wife” roles that she played in a string of biopics.

Missing from the career appreciations were two atypical Allyson titles - José Ferrer's compelling "The Shrike" (1955) and Douglas Sirk's lovelorn "Interlude" (1957), both made and released by Universal-International.

The two are impossible to see (or even find) these days, although Turner Classic Movies had "Interlude" penciled in for a couple screenings in the recent past, only to subsequently substitute another title at the 11th hour.

The disappearance of “The Shrike” is particularly odd, given its lofty credentials. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1952 play by Joseph Kramm, the stage production won two Tony awards for José Ferrer – as "best actor in a play" and "best director of a play." On stage, Ferrer co-starred with Judith Evelyn, best known as the timid Miss Lonelyhearts, spied on by James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954).

However, when Ferrer decided to transfer the play to film, his first as a director and with himself again in the male lead, he did the unforeseeable and hired Allyson to play the role of a bright, seemingly caring wife (seemingly) who relentlessly pecks and pecks away at her husband – much like the bird of the title – until she has effectively reduced him to a state of utter helplessness and frightening mental instability.

Never before had Allyson's sunniness been made to seem so untrustworthy - it's toxic actually - and she responds to the challenge with a memorably unsettling (and yet subtle) performance. With this film, Ferrer explored what the critic Richard Schickel described as Allyson’s “vaunted sweetness,” as well as the perilous state of marriage when one of its partners fairly drips -  and seduces - with venom. “It was a delicious combination,” Schickel commented in his book “The Stars” (1962) – "her surface sweetness and the inner viciousness of the role.” A great performance.

James M. Cain concocted the story for Douglas Sirk's "Interlude," which was remade a decade later in 1968 under the same title by director Kevin Billington - although, for some bizzar reason, Cain goes uncredited in the Billington version. Oddly, Cain only supplied the story to Sirk. He didn't pen the screenplay. That was done by a collection of other writers.

Both films are European-based soap operas about a young, impressionable woman (Allyson in the Sirk version, Barbara Ferris in Billington's) who falls for a married orchestra conductor (Rossano Brazzi and Oskar Werner, respectively). The heroines both suffer in achingly beautiful surroundings, although neither film is exactly an emotional knockout. And the remake is as difficult to see as the original.

Allyson playing a woman who falls for a married man and pursues an affair with him could have meant career suicide in the 1950s, especially for someone who played uncomplicated, perky woman in which Allyson specialized. But her performance here is another gentle reminder that it was foolish for one  to underestimate June Allyson.

It's interesting to compare the two versions of the material. The Sirk film, of course, has those matchless Sirkian qualities that he so freely exhibited at Universal-International during this ripe, productive period, while Billington's take on it is more realistic and kept afloat largely by the mesmerizing, mournful Werner and the lovely Virginia Maskell as his wife.

 The choice of music is also interesting. The remake has a classic Georges Delerue score. Lots of harpischords here - way over the top. Frank Skinner scored Sirk's film in a more traditional, studio-approved way.

Sirk opens his film with a song by the McGuire Sisters; Billington and Delerue use the inimitable Timi Yuro for the remake's haunting title song.

You know, I'd actually like to see "Interlude" again - both versions.

And certainly "The Shrike," which is begging for a remake of its own.
* * * * *
(from top)

~Vintage June Allyson
~photography: MGM 1947©

~Poster art for "The Shrike"

~Publicity shots of June Allyson and José Ferrer in "The Shrike"
 ~photography: Universal-International 1955©

 ~Poster art for "Interlude"

~Allyson and Rossano Brazzi in "Interlude"
~photography:  Universal-International 1957©