It Happened One Night – 1934
It Happened One Night was a romantic comedy starring Clark Gable as Peter Warne, a newspaper reporter who is down on his luck and getting fired. His co-star was Claudette Colbert playing the part of Ellie Andrews, the pampered daughter of a rich banker. Ellie runs away from her father, meets Peter, who sees her as a story that will win him back his job, and hijinks ensues.
Before watching the film, I was a little surprised that a comedy that has been described as a screwball comedy, had won the Academy Award for Best Picture. After watching the movie, I was still surprised that it had won, but for different reasons. In my humble opinion, it didn’t seem worth it. The plot was pretty shallow and lackluster. As a comedy, it wasn’t overly funny. As a drama, it wasn’t very dramatic. As a love story, it was only mildly romantic.
I admit that my opinion is a bit biased. I’ve never been a huge fan of romantic comedies. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but for a Best Picture winner, I guess I was expecting more than I got. The characters were two-dimensional, the plot was predictable, and there were a few editing errors that were obvious enough to catch even my attention. From what I read, the actors didn’t even want to be in the movie. When filming was completed, Colbert even went so far as to tell her friend “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world.”
Fortunately, for Gable and Colbert, they were good enough actors that their disinterest in the project did not come across on the screen. They looked like they were enjoying themselves and they shared a good on-screen chemistry. There was a scene in which the characters had to pretend to be a fighting couple. You could tell that the actors enjoyed filming that scene and it was fun to watch.
There were several things about the movie that did catch my attention, though these are not criticisms of the movie itself. These are just signs of the era in which the film was made. I had never seen a movie starring Clark Gable before. I had heard about his prominent ears on several occasions, but was caught off guard the first time he was shown head-on. They really did stick out from his head a lot. Colbert’s eyebrows were frightening, at least by today’s standards. And finally, I was amused by the men’s fashion of pants that were worn incredibly high, several inches above the belly-button. I will also mention that Colbert’s leg in the famous “hitch-hiking” scene was quite beautiful and shapely.
Interesting note: This was the first film to win the “Big Five”. Not only did it win for Best Picture, but it also took home Oscars for Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Writing, Adaptation (Robert Riskin)
To me, the film may not have been worthy of all the Academy Awards that it won, but the audiences of the 1930’s loved it. In fact, audiences around the world since then have loved it, too. There have been two re-makes (Eve Knew Her Apples in 1945 and You Can’t Run Away From It in 1956), numerous parodies, and even two Bollywood re-makes.
I guess its popularity might make a little more sense when you consider the times in which the movie was released. The country was right at the lowest point of the Great Depression. I can see how movie-goers might have liked seeing a story about a rich girl who falls for the common man with no money. An appealing fantasy for people with very little money themselves.