It Happened One Night
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Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert team up for laughs as mismatched lovers in this 1934 screwball comedy classic. Spoiled Ellie Andrews (Colbert) escapes from her millionaire father (Walter Connolly), who wants to stop her from marrying a worthless playboy. En route to New York, Ellie gets involved with an out-of-work newsman, Peter Warne (Gable). When their bus breaks down, the bickering couple set off on a madcap hitchhiking expedition. Peter hopes to parlay the inside story of their misadventures into a job. But complications fly when the runaway heiress and brash reporter fall in love. Directed by Frank Capra, It Happened One Night was the first movie to be honored with all five major Oscars(r): Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Commentary by Frank Capra Jr.
Frank Capra Jr. Remembers... "It Happened One Night"
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The spoiled runaway heiress who finds true love with the down-to-earth newspaper reporter isn't the most original idea in movies -- but what Capra, Riskin (the writer), Gable & Colbert do with it is beyond priceless. Among other highlights in this thoroughly delightful film are the scene where Gable singlehandedly destroyed the men's undershirt industry by revealing a bare chest while undressing; Gable's argument with a bus driver; the scene already mentioned by other reviewers of Colbert's unique method of stopping a car after Gable, who claims to be a hitchhiking expert, has failed miserably; the breakfast scene in which Gable teaches Colbert how to dunk a doughnut properly; the falling-over funny scene of Gable & Colbert impersonating a brawling married couple to outwit her father's detectives; and the scene where he lectures her about piggyback riding and the virtues of the common man while carrying her across a stream. (But I must confess my favorite scene is probably Gable's argument with Colbert's father at the end of the film. When her father finally nails him down and says, "Do you love her?", Gable, after evading the question, finally answers, "Yes! But don't hold that against me, I'm a little screwy myself!")
Gable's performance here is simply his very best after GONE WITH THE WIND. There couldn't have been any close contenders for the Best-Actor Oscar that year; Gable simply walks off with the movie, in rollicking fashion, and it is abundantly clear while watching him exactly why women found him the Sexiest Man Alive (at that time, and for many years afterward). Even seventy years later, and more than 40 years after his death, he's still a heartbreaker here. He's funny and playful and tender and strong ... whew! It's a tragedy that current generations know so little about him and his remarkable career -- but they will get more than their fill of his very potent charm in this picture.
Colbert plays a fairly thankless part with great elegance and sophistication. While acting spoiled and bored and rebellious, she's also charming, funny and perfectly unimpressed with Gable's antics -- right up to the moment when she realizes she's in love with him.
All the supporting players (all studio actors) are wonderful, too, even in this essentially two-person movie. The guy playing Oscar Shapeley, the conceited suburban bore, was a Best Supporting Actor shoo-in -- wonder why HE didn't win that year, too? And the roles of Colbert's father and Gable's editor were beautifully filled. No one phoned in their work on this movie; every performance and nuance is a gem.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, after seventy years, is as fresh and funny as though it were made yesterday -- my nine-year-old and six-year-old sons both adore it, too.
Classic doesn't always mean boring. Sometimes -- as in this case -- classic means timeless. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT will be funny in this century and the next century and every century where men and women meet and fall in love.