It Happened One Night - (1934)


Clark Gable Peter Warne
Claudette Colbert Ellie
Walter Connolly Andrews
Roscoe Karns Shapeley
Jameson Thomas Westley
Alan Hale Danker
Arthur Hoyt Zeke
Blanche Friderici Zeke's Wife
Charles C. Wilson Gordon

Genre: Comedy/romance

Director: Frank Capra

Run time: 105m


By Dan Schneider of Cosmoetica:

It is a very rare thing when a light-hearted comedy, something that is quintessentially the stuff of a "good movie," breaches into that territory where the term "good film" can also be applied, but Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934), adapted by Capra's longtime collaborator Robert Riskin from Samuel Hopkins Adams' short story "Night Bus," may be such an exception.

Today, most people know Capra solely for his rediscovered classic It's a Wonderful Life, made a dozen years later, but It Happened One Night was his first stab at what most critics would label greatness. The fact that the film is a comedy is all the more striking for It Happened One Night lacks the symbolism of some of the great silent comedians, the social satire of the 1960s madcap comedies, or those of Woody Allen's intellectualized Golden Era.

Yet, It Happened One Night, aside from its fame for having helped to lift Columbia Pictures from the bottom of the film studio heap, and for being the first film to win the Big Five Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress - it is also credited with being one of the first "screwball comedies," a sub-genre of the romantic comedy that flourished during the mid-to-late 1930s. The main focus of such films was on the frustrations the protagonists went through before inevitably ending up together.

Another aspect of It Happened One Night is the brisk pace at which it was filmed, acted, and edited. Additionally, Capra had his actors speak slightly faster than normal, so their dialogue would match the pace of the picture. Ultimately, the film clocks in at a fairly hefty 105 minutes, whereas most comedies, especially romantic comedies, cannot sustain themselves for even shorter lengths. Even so, It Happened One Night is one of those films that, even if it lasted an hour longer, it would still "feel" right.

Capra had to shoot it in less than four weeks, to suit the demanding schedule of star Claudette Colbert, on loan from Paramount. This fact meant that few sets were built, so that more than many other contemporary films, It Happened One Night was filmed in the real world, with Capra using moving cameras and crane shots.

Also worth noting is that It Happened One Night's two stars, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, show why they were stars, even though neither initially wanted to make the film.

Colbert is another in a long line of determined heroines of the 1930s. Her slow attraction to Gable's character is fully believable, as her small, cute, winsome mien transmogrifies from icy to inviting over the course of the film. This is to be expected, though. After all, he is Clark Gable, and unlike Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night allows Gable to display both his great range as an actor and his masculine physique. In the witty banter between his character and Colbert's, Gable proves that he was as adept at comedy as he was at drama - something latter-day hunks, from Marlon Brando and Paul Newman to Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt, could never do.

The plot itself is rather simple: It Happened One Night opens with heiress Ellie Andrews (Colbert) leaping off her father's (Walter Connolly) yacht, after he vows to undo her elopement to a gold-digging aviator, King Westley (Jameson Thomas). In a nice use of ellipses - a technique that seems to have disappeared from today's bloated Hollywood films - Capra then shows her sneaking on to a bus, under the noses of detectives her father has hired. There she meets Peter Warne (Gable), a roué and newspaper reporter who recognizes her and plans to cash in on the reward offered by her father.

After some initial discomfort, the two become a pair. The reporter even helps her fend off a leering little salesman named Oscar Shapeley (Roscoe Karns, in a great humorous supporting role), who wants to turn Ellie in.
A number of great scenes follow, such as the busload of passengers singing "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze"; Gable's neutering of the bus driver who can only say, "Oh yeah"; and after the couple hit the road, the hitchhiking bit, when Ellie lifts up her skirt and shows off her left leg in order to get a ride.