Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Happened One Night (1934)

Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly
Genre: Comedy
Other Nominees: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes The Navy, The House of Rothschild, Imitation of Life, One Night of Love, The Thin Man, Viva Villa!, The White Parade

In researching this one I learned that It Happened One Night was one of Friz Freleng’s favorite films. Friz was a Warner Brothers animator who helped create Bugs Bunny and he noted in his memoirs that this movie helped inspire the carrot chewing, wise cracking rabbit. I loved this little nugget and could not help seeing aspects of Bugs as I watched the film. There is a surprising amount of carrot chewing going on!

And doing most of the chewing is Clark Gable. This was my first Gable experience and I was surprised by his role. Without having seen him in action if you had asked me what I think of when I hear his name I would have told you Clark was sleek, sophisticated, suave, and all those other “James Bond” words beginning with “s”. Instead we see him as something of a lowlife here. When we first meet Peter Warne we see a drunk slurring into the telephone, surrounded by a slew of fellow drunks. An out of luck journalist, he is making a drunken call to his boss which is never a good career move. As he sobers his wise cracking nature comes to the surface. This is a romantic comedy but the romance does not come easily. In fact for most of the movie Peter grumbles to, complains about, and yells at his sweetheart. All in all he comes across as less of those "s" words and more of a jerk.

The lady in question, the 1930’s answer to Paris Hilton, is played by Claudette Colbert. Ellie Andrews is the daughter of a millionaire and a starlet in all the papers. Rebelling against her father she jumps ship (literally) and makes a break for freedom. Ellie is on the run from her father who has put a reward out for anyone who returns her to him when she meets Gable’s character, who sees in her an opportunity to get a great story. They both agree to dodge her father’s hounds and head for New York together.

There are some great scenes in this movie. There is the classic hitchhiking scene, probably the most recognizable one, where Ellie shows some leg to get cars to pull over. And there is the “Walls of Jericho” analogy as the sharing and division of various motel rooms is accomplished by the hanging a sheet -- a sheet which can only be brought down by “Joshua’s trumpet”.

Frank Capra directed and the only thing I know about Frank is that he also was responsible for one of my favorite films of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life. So it is no surprise to me that I enjoyed this one.

I will leave you with some Oscar trivia: Not only is It Happened One Night the first comedy to win an Oscar it is also the first Oscar winning film to win all five major Academy Awards -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Only two other movies since then have matched that feat (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1974 and The Silence of The Lambs in 1990).

Next Up: the swashbuckling Mutiny on the Bounty

1 comment:

  1. One of my all-time favourite Oscar winners and rom-coms.

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