Directed by: Frank Capra (Oscar winner)
Screenplay by: Robert Riskin (Oscar winner)
Starring: Clark Gable (Oscar winner), Claudette Colbert (Oscar winner)
IMDb rating: 8.2
My rating: 7.6/10
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
The Gay Divorcee
Here Comes the Navy
The House of Rothschild
Imitation of Life
One Night of Love
The Thin Man
The White Parade
Synopsis: Spoilt heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away from her father, who is trying to prevent a marriage he doesn’t agree with. She runs into raffish newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) and the two set off together, with him pursuing a story (her) and her trying to reach her fiancé.
It Happened One Night is the classic example of a charming, old-fashioned romantic comedy. The leads are enjoyable, even if they don’t like each other at first, their hijinks are ridiculous and their journey fun.
Everyone, even Ellen’s interfering father, is likable. There are moments of wonderful comedy, like when Clark Gable accidentally spits on his own shoulder or goes off on a rant about piggybacking or dunking. And, of course, the classic hitchhiking scene is classic for a reason.
It was the first (and one of only three) films to win the big five Oscars (Best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress). I’m really so glad Frank Capra won Best Director for this one. When I was doing research for the Cavalcade post, I came across a heartbreaking story from the 1934 Oscars ceremony where the host, Will Rogers, when announcing best director, said “Come on up and get it, Frank!” meaning Frank Lloyd, the director of Cavalcade. But Frank Capra, who had been nominated for Lady for a Day, went up on stage as well and then had to make the long walk back to the table. That’s possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
The combination of talent on this film is just astounding. Not only do we have razor sharp dialogue from frequent Capra collaborator Robert Riskin, but Clark Gable was at the height of his manly appeal in the ‘30s (he starred in three best picture winners in this decade) and Claudette Colbert starredin three best picture nominees in this year alone (the other two being Cleopatra and Imitation of Life).
The bottom line: Probably my favourite best picture winner so far, and one I’d happily watch again and again. An easy, unchallenging movie and the template for romcoms still being used today. Watch it. It’s delightful.
See the rest of the series here.