Monday, May 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Lady in a Jam (1942)

I'm second to none in my admiration for wonderful Irene Dunne, but it must be admitted that LADY IN A JAM is one of the weaker entries in her very impressive list of film credits.

Dunne plays the title character, broke heiress Jane Palmer. The film attempts to be a screwball comedy, but the problem is that for a fair amount of the running time Jane is not just giddy, she's stupid and mean. She completely ignores financial reality and is unkind to those who have loyally tried to help her.

Things take a turn for the better when Dr. Enright (Patric Knowles), a psychiatrist employed by a Palmer family foundation, attempts to help Jane at the behest of her exasperated business manager (Eugene Pallette). Dr. Enright tries to understand Jane's attitudes, and in his role as her doctor he accompanies her to visit her grandmother (Queenie Vassar) in Arizona.

The film takes a turn for the better in Arizona, thanks to Ralph Bellamy as an off-key would-be Gene Autry type, as well as a large number of scenes filmed on location in Mesa. Nice location photography is always a plus for me!

The second half of the film still doesn't fly on all cyclinders, but Jane becomes more likeable, especially as she begins to fall for the good doctor. The film's short 78-minute running time works in the movie's favor, as it's over and done with before it has a chance to become too annoying!

Knowles, perhaps best known as Will Scarlett in the classic THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), is a nice guy with some good timing on his line readings, but he doesn't have a great deal of chemistry with Dunne. Perhaps some of the issue is that Knowles was 13 years younger than Dunne. Dunne was one of a couple actresses of the era -- Jean Arthur was another -- sometimes paired with a younger man; usually it works, but combined with the storyline, it's all just a bit of a muddled mess. The filmmakers seemed reluctant to have the film end on too romantic a note.

The film was directed by Gregory LaCava, who had earlier directed Dunne in SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932) and the previous year's more successful comedy UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1941), in which Dunne was well teamed with the more mature Robert Montgomery and Preston Foster.

The cast also includes Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Hicks, and perpetual cop Edward Gargan. (One of these days I'll take the time to add up how many of his over 300 credits were as a policeman!) Reed Hadley, Phyllis Kennedy, and Charles Lane have small parts.

The black and white cinematography was by Hal Mohr.

LADY IN A JAM was recently released in DVD-R format from the Universal Vault Series, available exclusively from Amazon.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Sigh. I was really looking forward to this, as I've never seen it. Alas, it sounds like a rental. With LaCava at the helm, I was hoping for something more.

You're right Laura, Irene Dunne and Patric Knowles together doesn't chime right.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, it was a definite disappointment, as I love Dunne and a nice romantic comedy. And there was Our Girl Irene being *nasty* to people...for half an hour!

I bought it, because these DVD-Rs are hard to come by as a rental and I'm such a fan of Dunne. (Netflix doesn't have it, but maybe ClassicFlix does?) But I'd recommend others try to check it out before purchasing.

On the other hand, I'd love to own a nice print of LaCava & Dunne's UNFINISHED BUSINESS, which I saw in a very poor copy. If Universal Vault put it out in a print as nice as LADY IN A JAM, I'd purchase it immediately.

Best wishes,

1:55 PM  

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