Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It Happened One Night (1934)

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young man on the flying trapeze! My goodness, I cannot get that out of my head since I watched this the other day. Which is nice, since it's made the film stick with me even more than the first time I saw it years ago. Based on a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, Capra's It Happened One Night tells the tale of heiress and spoiled brat Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), on the run from her father Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) in Miami, who disapproves of her elopement with showy aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas). She has run away before, but never for so long or over such a great distance, and she is unused to being treated like a regular civilian. She loses her luggage and most of her money while en route to New York to meet King, but refuses to contact anyone for help at the risk of being found by her father's PI's or the police.

As she travels she keeps running in to the slick Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a recently-fired reporter who recognizes her and plans on using her story as a way to get his job back. She accepts his help, not caring about the news story as long as she is reunited with King. They travel by train, bus, foot, and stolen car for several days and nights, conning their way into motels for some nights. On their journey they oscillate between laughing camaraderie and hostile bickering: Ellie is excited to be spending so much time alone with a clever man, but easily offended; Peter thinks she's cute and refreshing but loathes her upper-class affectations. Obviously they'll fall in love, but will their social statuses and stubborn natures keep them apart?

This was ostensibly the first screwball comedy, and at the time no one really knew how to handle it. Nobody (including the stars) liked the script, nobody thought it would amount to anything, yet it went on to win all 5 major Oscars and has since become a classic example of the perfect romantic comedy. The performances are excellent: Gable and Colbert carry the film completely, playing off each other really well amidst sharp dialogue and some great physical gags. Gable is perfect in the snarky, pragmatic role of Peter, perpetually wearing a slightly amused expression. Colbert carries herself loftily, but makes Ellie sympathetic, torn between her desire for independence and lack of real-world experience. The whole film is shot with a softness of composition and light common to Capra's movies, creating an interesting experience in both subject and scene.

It's a simple love story told with enough wit, humor, and fun that, combined with the fantastic performances, make for a memorable classic film. Also it contains a pretty risqué stripping scene involving Clark Gable that purportedly led to drastic drops in undershirt sales, so, what more do you need?



  1. Wasn't it interesting to watch the genesis of so many rom com cliches in this film, executed so wonderfully? Love it.

  2. I've never seen Walter Connolly in an unenjoyable performance, and while this is a typically small role, he shines.

    "That's no answer - that's an evasion!!"

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