Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lady In A Jam

publicity for "Lady In A Jam"

Release date 06.19.1942

"I leave everything to numerology and astrology and things like that. It's much more reliable than thinking for myself."

Mr. Billingsley (Eugene Pallette) turns for psychiatric help to the Palmer Medical Foundation. Not help for him - way off the mark - but for his ward Jane Palmer (Irene). Miss Palmer, the granddaughter of the foundation's founder, not only managed to squander her entire inheritance but also refuses to accept the consequences of her behaviour; instead she drifts through life believing in numerology and "vibrations."
The ungrateful job to try to teach Jane some responsibility goes to handsome psychiatrist Dr. Enright (Patric Knowles). Due to an accidental chance - in the literal sense of the word - Enright gets the job as Jane's chauffeur. He makes no secret of his being a doctor but claims that he is on a detour "because of a woman."

with Patric Knowles

Despite Billingsley's endeavors, Jane's possessions are soon auctioned off. Enright convinces her that she has to confront her past in Arizona. Jane grew up living with her grandmother Cactus Kate (Queenie Vassar) in direct vicinity to the gold mine Last Hope where Jane's grandfather once excavated the family fortune. The only fond memory Jane has of her life in the desert is the one of her childhood sweetheart Stanley (Ralph Bellamy). However, Enright is certain that this would be the right place for Jane to learn to do things for her and others. Together they leave for Cactus Kate's shabby shack.

arriving in Arizona...

Jane hoped that her grandmother would give her some money to prosecute Billingsley - she is convinced that he embezzled her fortune - but Cactus Kate refuses and suggests trying the old mine to Jane.
Mainly to please Enright, Jane starts digging. Meanwhile she has developed a crush for her doctor and hopes showing some self-sufficiency and pulling all female tricks would make him "vibrate." Both enterprises are not successful; Last Hope is plain and simple exploited and Enright objects to "vibrating with Jane" because of ethical reasons. She is still his patient and additionally quite a handful. 

trying to make Enright "vibrate"...

Frustrated, Jane tells her grandmother that she will give up on the mine and on Enright and just settle down with her. The prospect of living with this nitwit is so shocking for Cactus Kate that she salts the mine hoping to get rid of Jane. Maybe a little gold could pique Enright's interest in her granddaughter. Well, Enright is the first one to get that this gold rush was self-induced but can't leave now because Jane supposedly back into money certainly will turn to her old ways soon... and is she really "healed"? Allegedly, she has still spells and odd dreams; furthermore she starts babbling about a marriage with Stanley. Obliged to his Hippocratic oath not only, Enright stays, and Jane starts to parade the green-eyed monster...

Is she really sane??

Sounds a little bit confused, right? Well, that's exactly the main problem with this film. It has its moments but never really gets going; instead of a brisk stroll "Lady In A Jam" is a rather arduous path. The team under the direction of Gregory LaCava worked with an unfinished script, which was common for a LaCava project but he was repeatedly ill during production - probably one explanation for this patchy and bumby plot. As much as I liked how LaCava took advantage of Irene's image in "Unfinished Business," just throwing Irene into a mud hole - not very ladylike, indeed - simply isn't enough. This time LaCava's working method of constant rewrites and improvisation did not work.
Universal's publicity department made quite a brouhaha about the filming in the Arizona desert and especially those "mud scenes" but even that didn't help "Lady In A Jam" at the box office.

With LaCava (at the left) preparing for the "mud scene".
The mud was a mixture of dirt, water and oil... poor Irene!

This was the only time in her career that Irene stayed on location (for about 5 weeks.) "High, Wide and Handsome" was also filmed on location but Irene traveled daily back and forth. At last, sitting in the desert alternately exposed to heat and cold and waiting for LaCava's inspiration to come, took its toll. Irene lost her temper and had a sort of nervous breakdown. This is a real, real Irene Dunne rarity - sets of Irene Dunne films were known for their pleasant atmosphere.

on set passing away some time...

Considering the fact, that Irene said "I believed in my roles, I lived them..." this fit of temper is at least fitting for Jane Palmer. She is a real pain in the neck - with some Dunne charm of course - but still a pain in the neck. Irene gives a clever performance in this rather stupid film: efficiently using the Dunne tool - her voice - she speaks faster than normally with a very defenite accentuation but frequently trails off in between or mutters under her breath. One can really hear how Jane's brain is moving - and it's not on a steady course!
Nifty dressed in Bernard Newman creations - one of Irene's favorite designers around that time - she manages to convince us that a nagger can be a strain but nonetheless worthwhile.

publicity with Patric Knowles

Co-star Patric Knowles leaves a rather pale impression; nowhere near Irene's league, he's a handsome guy but an actor I watch and forget. I always imagine someone like Brian Aherne or Robert Young or someone else of their ilk in this role. Some chemistry between our leads, some more elaboration on the love story would have done "Lady In A Jam" good but, alas, was not to be.
Poor Ralph Bellamy, whom I appreciate very much, has the most ungrateful role. I can't think of a single reason why Stanley isn't portrayed more attractively; especially with someone like Bellamy for this character. Do you remember his wonderful performance in "The Awful Truth" where he played another "country egg" as Irene's love interest? But Stanley is simply ridiculous and not even allowed to be good at things this cliché of a cowboy ought to be good at - to lasso cattle, for instance. I assume that the scene on the farm was meant to be funny but my risible muscle denied any action. Anyhow, I can't say that this particular muscle was very active; really challenged was only my staying power.

Ralph Bellamy singing the appropriate piece of music for this film - a lamento...

"Lady In A Jam" is one of those "could have been" films: could have been funny, could have been great. The initial idea is not bad and the one aspect about this film I really like is that Irene played for once not a completely likeable character. But unfortunately those promising beginnings are not consequently developed and the result is mere patchwork.
The only silver lining of this film and the only thinkable reason to watch it is... I'm sure you know the name.
Once again, we've come full circle.

Please, don't shoot the reviewer!