#143 It Happened One Night
(1934, Frank Capra)
“You think you got a great yarn, but then something comes along and messes up the finish”
Only three movies have ever won all of the “big five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director. I’ve already reviewed two of them – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and, in an amazing coincidence, the last film, The Silence Of The Lambs – and now It Happened One Night is the third.
It Happened One Night is about Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), the daughter of a wealthy business owner in New York. After she marries fortune-hunter “King” Westley against her father’s wishes, he father whisks her onto a yacht in Miami and insists she gets an annulment. She escapes and attempts to take the night-bus back to New York. Along the way, she meets out-of-work reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who agrees to accompany her back on the condition that she gives him an exclusive story about the journey; if she doesn’t accept the offer, he’ll contact her father and collect the reward money. She agrees, and thus starts a road-trip between the high society Ellie and more down-to-earth Peter.
Compared to the other Big Five winners, It Happened One Night isn’t all that amazing. But then again, as my glowing reviews for those films will attest, that’s a tough act to follow, not least because It Happened One Night is so much older. However, for its age and for its genre, it’s fantastic. In a genre that today is populated by tiresome Jennifer Aniston vehicles, it’s refreshing to see a romantic comedy that’s actually endearing and amusing.
Gable and Colbert work fantastically well together, playing up a chemistry that’s genuinely enjoyable to watch. It’s bizarre to read that neither actor enjoyed working on the movie, since they certainly act like they did. Gable is wise-cracking without fault, but Colbert manages to get her fair share of quips in there too. It’s also amusing to see Gable act like such a smooth operator, and then see that Colbert can top him – the hitch-hiking scene is a perfect example of this.
In terms of plot, the movie isn’t particularly spectacular. A rebellious high society woman goes off on a jaunt and meets a charming man much better than her husband, while the charming man walks the line between charming and being a bastard. There really isn’t much more to it than that, and for the most part it can feel a little outdated. It was also a little odd that out of the many people the duo encounter, only one person notices the woman who’s made front page news. Were people in the thirties considerably less attentive?
There are other problems that are attributable to the age of the movie more than anything else. Ellie’s confession of love to Peter was a little too unrealistic for my liking, and the idea that showing some leg was scandalous is kind of silly now.
There are moments that are a little cheesy too. The sing-song section on the bus was a little grating, but I’m sure regular readers would expect me to say that. Ellie’s confession that she’d fallen for Peter was rather dramatic and unrealistic. The ending shot is also a little ridiculous and I shook my head in bafflement due to how silly it was.
However, I did enjoy the movie, despite not knowing which way it would go after the previous Capra movies I reviewed. But I can safely say it’s more It’s A Wonderful Life than The Bitter Tea Of General Yen. Not as good as Wonderful Life, but still highly watchable.
Starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert & Walter Connolly
Written by Samuel Hopkins Adams (story) & Robert Riskin
Produced by Frank Capra & Harry Cohn
Music by Howard Jackson & Louis Silvers
Cinematography by Joseph Walker
Edited by Gene Havlick
Favourite Scene: I loved the hitch-hiking scene, just because it showed how capable Ellie was, and was easily the funniest scene in the movie
Scene That Bugged Me: The ending seemed far too cheesy, especially when you start to think about how much unnecessary effort the duo would have to put in for that
Watch it if: You like old romantic comedies
Avoid it if: You’re likely to be disappointed that it actually happens over several nights