After the death of her husband, Jane Osgood (Doris Day) decides to start raising and selling lobsters to support her two children. She’s thrilled to get her first big order from the Marshalltown Country Club, but when she ships the live lobsters by the E&P Railroad, they die because of the railroad’s inattentiveness. Jane is horribly upset and with help from her longtime friend and lawyer George (Jack Lemmon), they sue the railroad for damages.
When railroad owner Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs) hears about the lawsuit, he agrees to offer Jane $700, the retail cost of the lobsters. But since the country club has cancelled all future orders with Jane, she wants money to cover her lost business as well and is willing to fight for it. She wins her court case, but E&P is willing to drag the case out through appeals. Not wanting to play that game, Jane files a writ of execution against the railroad and gets a train, the Old 97, instead of money.
After Jane’s story is picked up by local reporter Matilda Runyon (Mary Wickes), the story becomes national news and reporters descend on Jane’s hometown. The publicity for the E&P Railroad gets even worse when Malone insists that Jane start paying him rent for keeping the Old 97 on the track. One reporter in particular, Larry Hall (Steve Forrest), takes a real interest in Jane and proposes to her, making George extremely jealous.
Meanwhile, Malone continues to wage war against Jane by cutting off train service to her hometown until she moves the Old 97. Jane doesn’t know what to do, but George comes up with the idea of using the Old 97 to deliver her lobster orders. George even offers to shovel coal on the train to make it happen. But Malone continues to do everything in his power to beat Jane in this battle and keeps re-routing Jane’s train so it takes excessively long for them to get anywhere and eventually run out of coal. Amidst all the stress of the trip, George manages to win Jane’s heart and even Malone ends up making peace with Jane.
I was totally charmed by It Happened to Jane. How can anyone not be charmed by Doris Day and Jack Lemmon? Putting Doris Day and Jack Lemmon together is a recipe for happiness in celluloid form. I absolutely loved them together; it’s really too bad they didn’t star together in any other movies. Ernie Kovacs is also very memorable in it. The story is gentle and light without being overly cheesy. It’s the kind of movie that’s great to watch on a quiet Sunday afternoon. It Happened to Jane was filmed on location in Connecticut, so it’s full with lovely scenery to look at. However, it does have what has got to be one of the lamest songs Doris Day has ever sung — “Be Prepared.” All in all, a very enjoyable flick. Nothing Earth shatteringly good or bad, just a pleasant way to spend about an hour and a half.