Tuesday, February 23, 2010
It Happened One Night
This is the romantic comedy by which all others are measured. Winner of all 5 major Academy Awards. A huge hit at the box office. Turned its leading actors from performers to "Movie Stars". Number 35 on the AFI list of all-time films. There is even a long-standing story about clothing sales being dramatically affected by this film. For certain It Happened One Night is sweet, charming, funny and entertaining.
Clark Gable plays a veteran reporter that has quit/lost his job. Claudette Colbert portrays an heiress on the run from her father in an effort to return to her newlywed husband. Her super-rich father has hired everyone and everything in an effort to find her. Gable, sensing a front-page story, escorts her through the gauntlet of pursuers to get her back to hubby. Of course, along the way each discovers they prefer the company of the other. But will these lovers overcome their preconceived notions and admit to their attraction? And can they surpass the obstacles along the way?
The plot is a simple, tried and true Hollywood storyline. Keep the two stars from getting together until the final reel. But it became a standard because of this film. It Happened One Night was one of the biggest box-office films of its time. But the obstacles to making this now timeless classic were daunting. Clark Gable, at first, refused to make this film. He felt it was a little film from a little studio. He was a contract actor at MGM, one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. To punish him for other issues, they forced Gable to work for Columbia and make this movie. He was not happy. Claudette Colbert was also not interested in this film. Director Frank Capra had to double her usual salary and promise her she could finish in a few weeks just to get her to show up. After finishing she told her friends that she had "just finished the worst movie of my career". I would bet, that after the wild popularity of this movie, they later felt much different.
The two actors are terrific. Both Gable and Colbert are charming and funny, but they are also individuals. Now, these parts are almost cliches, but in the hands of masters they are real. Director Capra, one of America's greatest, develops each character enough that they feel authentic. The Robert Riskin screenplay gives each actor enough strength and humor for the viewer to be deeply committed to what happens. Too often this kind of romantic/screwball comedy moves to ridiculous. Not here. From the bus ride, to the characters along the road, to the "walls of Jericho" this film strikes a chord with the audience.
One more detail. Friz Freleng was the main creator of Bugs Bunny. As you may know, I love Bugs Bunny. Bugs is the perfect thumb-your-nose at authority character that I wish I was. All fun and no respect is my motto. Freleng, in his autobiography, said that he modeled Bugs Bunny after Clark Gable in this movie. He specifically mentions how Gable eats carrots and speaks quickly in It Happened One Night as one of his inspirations. He also mentions how the personality of the character 'Shapely' is a prime inspiration as well. Any film that is a basis for Bugs Bunny is all-right by me!
Don't let what has become an overused plot deter you. This film is warm and funny. Enjoy it!
Filmed in 1934, directed by Frank Capra, written by Robert Riskin, starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns. In reference to the clothing sales, the story is that when Clark Gable takes off his shirt and is not wearing any undershirt men throughout America decided to not wear undershirts as well. I have never seen any actual data to back this up, but the story has been retold thousands of times.