On Second Thought: “It Happened One Night”

IMG_1536.JPGThe romantic comedy is not a perfect genre, by far, but it seldom crosses my mind that what we see today, good and bad, has deep roots in the early ages of the talking motion pictures.

The Columbia Pictures film “It Happened One Night” is the kind of film, even now, that the modern romantic comedy only dreams of being.

This romantic comedy stars Clark Gable (“Gone with the Wind”, “Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)”), Claudette Colbert (“Since You Went Away”, “Private Worlds”), and Walter Connolly (“Broadway Bill”, “Lady by Choice”).

The film was directed by Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”) and written by Robert Riskin (“Here Comes the Groom”, “You Can’t Take It with You”). It is based on the short story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams.

The film was originally released on Feb. 22, 1934. The film would go on to win all five Academy Awards for which it was nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Writing, Adaptation.

The acting from the two leads is good. I’m surprised, mainly because a lot of the films I’ve seen from this time or a little later, usually isn’t that great. There were a few off moments, mainly with believability of the lines delivered, but the rest was quite flawless. Okay, one part wasn’t, but it leant itself quite well to the comedic scene. In an effort at not being recognized, Colbert pretends to be in crying hysterics from being “yelled” at by Gable. This is almost over the top, on purpose and possibly accidental, but works none the less.

Ultimately what this film boils down to is chemistry and what’s been written to provide the comedy. I truly, more so than ever before, believed in the strange relationship that formed between these two. It, of course, starts off a bit contentious. It takes several instances, and many comedic scenes, to grow the relationship towards the expected end. But through it all, and this is where I was sold, is how funny it is, even at 80 years old.

One particular funny gag, that I love, involves a sheet, a rope, and constant references to Jericho. Even at the very end the film ends with this wall of Jericho finally coming down, an obvious nod to their relationship really being cemented. There were some even clever moments of dialogue that had me laughing and really enjoying Gable and Colbert. One memorable scene, especially then, was when they were trying to their hand at hitchhiking. They needed a ride, and Gable says he knows all the good ways to stop a passing motorist. As Colbert sits back and waits, it turns out, he doesn’t really have good techniques. It takes her flashing a bit of leg, to finally get someone to stop.

One thing to note, is how this film really has the modern day generic rom-com formula. Two characters that don’t like each other, one’s married, and some sort of mildly dramatic turn of events throws all into a tailspin. Then, of course, you get your happy ending. Who knew this film really was one of the original romantic comedies made. It also show that Colbert was, to me, the original “Runaway Bride”. It was also pretty well created and original with approach.

For a film that’s this old, it’s rare that so much can still work today. It’s also an interesting experience as you can clearly see why this film was well received back in 1934. While I may not know how to describe what it is that Capra helped create through his directing, I can say that with the acting, chemistry and well written script, this film will remain so genuine and funny as it continues to age. This time around, this film captured my interest even more than I expected. I can only hope that there are more films like this that can achieve a similar result.

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