Film Flick Friday: It Happened One Night

Friday, September 28, 2012

Looking back on it today, it seems baffling to even consider, but the award-studded film It Happened One Night
almost didn't happen at all. Frank Capra directed this romantic comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. However, neither star particularly wanted to be there. Gable was on loan from MGM, and in a part that was a far cry from his usual dashing hero roles. Colbert was only enticed to set by a promise of double her regular salary and getting the entire movie filmed in under four weeks before her vacation was scheduled to start. A tall order to fill, but film history will always be grateful.

The film's short production time was made possible in part due to the fact it was a "road trip" film. There were very few sets to build and even less costumes to make. Despite initial objections about the film, Colbert and Gable formed a warm relationship that shows on the screen, and Gable himself ended up having a ball with the part and with Capra. Still, fun or no fun, the film's sucess was so surprising, that Colbert had to be summoned from a train station in order to recieve her Best Actress Award. She had been so convinced that she would not win she had not even bothered attending the ceremony. Her speech was delievered in a travel suit, and consisted of only a succint 'thank you.' However, after she walked off the stage, she turned right back around to add a specific thank you to Frank Capra, saying he had made her winning possible. It Happened One Night went on that year to win not only Best Actress, but Best Actor, Director, Screenplay, and Film. In the Academy's history only two other films have ever achieved such honors of getting a "Grand Slam" like that. And the awards didn't stop at the red carpet either! It also took home title of "Best Picture of 1934" from the National Board of Review, has a place of honor on the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films (at number thirty five), and held the record for most showings of a picture for many years.

A fore-runner to true screwball comedies, it is easy to see why audiences fell in love. An heiress (Claudette Colbert) just wants freedom; her over-protective father just wants her away from her golddigger of a husband. When she jumps off a boat- and away from her bodyguards,-all eyes are out for the young lady. Can she get to New York without getting caught? Maybe- with a little help from down-and-out newpaperman, Peter Warren (Clark Gable). In exchange for an exculsive story, he agrees to get her back into the arms of her new husband. But while on the road to New York, they might- just maybe- be on the path to falling love.

Clark Gable is at his most charming, showing off a side we rarely see on the silver screen. He's funny, practical, occasionally bitter and yet still kind. Meanwhile, Colbert's character walks that thin line between truly spoiled and delightfully dazzling. The comedic timing of the show creates wonderful pacing, held in check by not just the leads, but also side characters like the oily Mr. Shapeley ("Shapeley see- cause that's how I like 'em!").

It is also a surprsingly racey film for the time. Gable takes off his shirt, revealing no undershirt beneath (a movie moment that sank an entire industry as undershirt sales took a sharp decline after the film's release), and Colbert stops a car by showing off her leg (she almost refused to film the scene at all, till she became insulted by Capra's suggestion of a body double). But, while it remains adorably PG with the "walls of Jericho" in place, the sexual tension remains high by those very same walls. It doesn't need the racy flashes so common in later decades. Somehow, the idea that some "walls" might come tumbling down, fuels enough sexual tenssion to keep us intrigued. And even if the lighting is sometimes spotty and even if there is an occasionally tendency to give a soft blur to scenes, it is an excellent film.

The only real complaint I had was the ending never saw the two stars physically on screen, but on screen or off, they- and the entire film- delights from beginning to end.


  1. That vintage poster up top is lovely

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  2. thank you for wishing me luck~~ Yea, it was quite surreal to see the north korean soldiers....

    also... i LOVE Clark Gable~


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  3. I just found your blog, I love it! I love your style! :)

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  4. I can't tell you how happy I am that this was your choice this week, this is one of my favorite movies of all time. I'll always love the pairing of Gable and Colbert and, despite being slightly racy for the time, there's an innocence to it that's just so charming. And I love knowing that the very first movie to win the Big Five was a Capra screwball romantic comedy. Wonderful review!

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  5. i really just love the style and differences in older movies - the stories are so drastically different and focus on different ideals than now

    <3 katherine
    of corgis and cocktails

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