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It Happened One Night (1934)

NR 105 minutes

Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Samuel Hopkins Adams, Robert Riskin

 · Clark Gable
 · Claudette Colbert
 · Walter Connolly
 · Roscoe Karns
 · Jameson Thomas

Review by Thom Stricklin

Frank Capra is a legend to film directors.  "Capra-esque" has become its own word.  We rarely go a Christmas season without watching It's a Wonderful Life, nor do we escape a U.S. Government class without sitting through Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Oddly, however, Capra's most awarded film is one you're not likely to find, unless you take a film class or watch a classic movie channel for weeks upon weeks.

It Happened One Night is one of only three films to sweep the major Oscar categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.  Did it deserve such reward? Yes.  It may not seem like much today, but the film was as solid as they came in 1934.




It Happened One Night is a surprisingly well-made film for 1934, and a number of reasons why might be attributed to a snobby actress.  Frank Capra wanted Claudette Colbert for the role of Ellie Andrews, and nobody else, but Colbert was difficult.  Among other requests, she required Capra to make the film in under four weeks.  As a result, Capra was forced to film the bulk of the picture in real locations, creating a much more real & engrossing environment for the film than most set pictures of the day could provide.

Of course, in a film awarded for its screenplay, one cannot overlook the writing.  By today's standards it's rather trite and even borderline insulting, but keep in mind this was in 1934, before feminism, before the women's liberation movement, and more importantly, smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression.  Ellie Andrews may seem like a sexist stereotype today, but when the film was released, she represented an entire class, and by portraying that class as feeble and ill-equpped to handle life, and by contrasting the working-class Peter as resourceful and adept, Robert Riskin was able to provide the mostly-poor moviegoers a sense of redemption from their poverty.




But despite all that can be said of direction or writing, the plain and simple truth is that this is a fun movie.  It took the nation by storm so many years ago, not because of camera angles or shooting locations, but because of the crazy & humorous misadventures this couple had to go through on their path to love.

Clark Gable is the best reason for this.  It's obvious he had fun playing this character, so different from the serious roles of bravado he was used to playing at MGM.  He plays a slick, sleazy reporter with a drinking habit; Gable loves it, and through his efforts, we do too.  Ellie is a little harder to enjoy, until the characters begin to open up and show their tender sides...  And then, of course, there is the "risque" hitchhiking scene.



It Happened One Night is an interesting film to watch, from a historical perspective.  Though it's classified as a "screwball" comedy and more about laughs than hearts & flowers, it by all practical means represents the birth of a genre: the romantic comedy.  And there have been few others since in that genre that can compare with this film.  If you don't think it can get better than When Harry Met Sally or one of those Hanks-Ryan paired films, prove yourself wrong and go pick up It Happened One Night.

533 Words Published: 15 March 2003

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