Review: It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night

Rating



Director

Frank Capra

Screenplay

Robert Riskin (Story: Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams)

Length

105 min.

Starring

Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas, Alan Hale, Arthur Hoyt, Blanche Friderici, Charles C. Wilson

MPAA Rating

N/A

Buy/Rent Movie

Poster

Source Material

Review

Comedy has rarely had an easy time at the Oscars. It Happened One Night became the first of its genre and also set another record.

Trying to escape his doomed job as a journalist, Peter Warne(Clark Gable) stumbles upon a most unlikely and unusual story. Ellie Andrews(Claudette Colbert), a rich socialite on the run from her father who’s trying to annul her marriage to tycoon King Westley (Jameson Thomas), happens to betraveling incognito on Warne’s bus to New York.

At first, he sees only his meal ticket to a great article that will net him plenty of money. When he begins to fall in love with the headstrong woman, his thoughts of success begin to fade and all he can see is the chance to make her love him. Ellie, on the other hand, sees Warne as only an arrogant opportunist. However, as love often blooms out of mutual loathing(at least at the movies), Ellie begins to love him as well.

Gable’s personality has always been charming with a rough edge. It’s why his performances in films like Mutiny on the Bounty and Gone With the Wind stand among the screen’s most iconic. He creates a sense of mystery blended with a hint of misogyny. It’s obvious his characters don’t hate women. He loves them to be strong but not so strong that he can’t control them. It’s that conflicting personality, epitomized in this film, that cements his charisma in the minds of the audience.

To make a strong leading man stronger, it requires a strong leading lady. Colbert fits that description perfectly. Ellie is both tenacious and naïve. Colbert gives her the resolute carriage of a woman well above her means while simultaneously capturing her utter inability to grasp the difficulties of being without her money and influence. Her trip to New York is eye-opening and while she learns more about the world around her, Peter learns more about himself.

Frank Capra’s first Academy Award came for It Happened One Night. Forget the fact that the previous year he’d been embarrassed thinking he’d won when presenter Will Rogers announced the winner saying “Come up and get it, Frank.” The award had gone to Frank Lloyd, one of Capra’s competitors. Nevertheless, Capra earned his first Award for an amazingly astute picture about love blossoming through adversity and between two people who never could have met had circumstances not dictated. Capra would carry on his common man theme with films like It’s a Wonderful Life and You Can’t Take It With You.

Capturing the top five Oscars (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Writing), It Happened One Night remains one of only three pictures to achieve such an outcome. It would be 41 years before the next film would do so (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and then sixteen before The Silence of the Lambs won the same. It Happened One Night remains one ofOscar’s all-time best decisions. Although seventy years have passed since It Happened One Night graced the screen, its message and themes are still universal today.

Even though a few phrases feel dated and it features a cast and crew of classic Hollywood names, this film could easily have been made today and might still have won the same Academy Awards all over again. It Happened One Night is a film for any generation and it is thankfully an indelible part of film history.

Review Written

October 10, 2006

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