It Happened One Night (1934)

Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin

TCM has been very good to me in the short time since I have moved back home and been able to utilize that great invention of man. They show so many great classic films and I have been able to catch up on a few I have not seen, with this film being one of them, and it has been a joy to see these great films. Frank Capra, the director, is famous for his small town America uplifting films with such features as It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. He has also hired some heavy hitters like Gary Cooper and James Stewart. This time he gets Clark Gable AND Claudette Colbert.

Gable plays newspaper man Peter who has just been let go by his editor. But lucky him, the bus he gets on happens to also have Ellie (Colbert) on board. Ellie is a famous heiress who has just ran away from home in the name of love. So, being the great journalist he is, Peter takes the opportunity to get the great story and help Ellie on her way to New York at the same time. Shenanigans occur and love blossoms.

What makes this film work as well as it does is definitely the two lead performances. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are magical together. Their chemistry is fantastic and each performance is, in its own way, perfect for the character and the film. And the characters are so well played out in this film, as the focus is pretty much all on them and their journey through the bus rides to New York. The interplay between the two also fuels the great comedy in the film. There are scenes where the two, as actors and as characters, just connect to create magic. The scene in the cabin when they fight like a married couple immediately comes to mind.

I would tend to say that most classic movies are fueled by two things. One would be the charismatic actors and the other would be a great scenario and story. I have already said that the actors were there, but the story was also there. It is not a grandiose, big story, but it is a cute, little story, which is exactly what you need to make a good romantic comedy. I also think that Frank Capra’s hand in the director’s chair has a lot to do with it. My experience thus far with Capra has been that he knows how to handle the characters he is given, which he has been given some great stories/characters, but it still takes a talented filmmaker to do anything with it. It Happened One Night is a good movie because it is fun, funny, and just a joy to watch. It reminded me some of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with the reporter/heiress scenario and for some reason it reminded me a little bit of His Girl Friday. Perhaps because it was fun like that film, or perhaps because they are just both good movies.

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