It Happened One Night

Review No. 424

The Bottom Line: Oh, what a joy it is!

Directed by: Frank Capra
Screenplay by: Robert Riskin
Story by: Samuel Hopkins Adams
Peter Warne: Clark Gable
Ellie Andrews: Claudette Colbert
Also Starring: Alan Hale, Arthur Hoyt, Blanche Friderici, Charles C. Wilson, Jameson Thomas, Roscoe Karns, Walter Connolly

Distributed by Columbia Pictures on February 22, 1934. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 105 mins. Not rated by the MPAA.

It Happened One Night was watched on February 18, 2013.

Peter Warne (Clark Gable): “Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.”
Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert): “Well, ooo, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.”

The question many pre-1960 films seem to get is, “Has it stood the test of time?”  In the case of It Happened One Night, the answer is an undying “yes.”  Undoubtedly, this film is the romantic comedy, the screwball comedy, the standard by which all its descendants should be judged.  The film is absolutely impeccable, for lack of a better word.

It Happened One Night opens with a suave, likable man who falls in love with a woman on a casual bus ride.  This is the moment he lays eyes on her, and although she truly has no interest in him, he can’t stop himself from badgering her.  We don’t pick up on either of their names until at least a half hour through, but for all intents and purposes, the man (Clark Gable) is Peter Warne, and the woman (Claudette Colbert) is Ellie Andrews.

As the woman makes every possible attempt to avoid the one pining for her, she slowly realizes that perhaps she is being drawn to him.  We get a humorous, strangely charming glimpse at the schadenfreude she endures.  At one point, she chooses a snoring man over Peter, then grows annoyed, sits beside Peter, and falls asleep on his shoulder.  It’s apparent that he’s under the wrong impression, however.  During the next bus ride, Ellie chooses to sit over a nightmare-ishly talkative fellow; when Peter grows just as annoyed, he jumps in and somewhat impulsively refers to Ellie as his wife.

And it continues from there.

It Happened One Night is a brilliant little romcom, depicting the bumpy railroad (or, given that they meet on a bus, just a road) a man feels determined to throw himself across in order to win the heart of a woman he loves to no end.  There isn’t much else you could do to part farther from the tiresome “man meets woman, woman hopelessly falls for man.”  (Oddly enough, that so-called “premise” is a result of bastardizing classics like this one.)  What best, the ending is one of the rarest, most unexpected treats any movie has managed to find.

One final note.  It Happened One Night made a superior bookmark on Oscar history, one that remains to this day.  The film was the first to win all five of the most prestigious Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.  We’ve just wrapped up the 85th Oscar season, and to this day, only two other films have won that colossal honor (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs).  If only more romances like It Happened One Night could occupy, let alone dominate the twenty-first century.


District 9


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