8 November 2005 | aimless-46
Consider this, "It Happened One Night" was made in 1933 which gives it the distinction 70+ years later of being the oldest film still widely viewed by mainstream audiences. And most of the runner-ups for oldest film are 1930's screwball comedies inspired by the success of this seminal film which made a clean sweep of the 1934 Academy Awards. The genre has held up over the years because these are small human stories with themes that are still relevant.
The main reason "It Happened One Night" worked then and still works today is the accidental pairing of Colbert and Gable, who provide an amazing chemistry under Frank Capra's direction. Columbia Pictures was a small player in the early days of talking pictures and studio head Harry Cohn had difficulty rounding up two major stars to play the leads in this modest budget production. Colbert was not interested in doing another Capra film after a negative experience working for him six years earlier in her silent picture debut. Cohn told Capra: "That French broad likes money" and Capra finally got her on board with an offer of $50,000 (double her usual price) and a guarantee that production would only last 28 days. Gable was under contract to MGM but had been making trouble for them so as punishment Louis B. Mayer personally loaned him to Columbia for this film.
The film had a lot else going for it; a motivated Capra, a great script that would play well with small town America, and a good ensemble of supporting talent. The story concerns a spoiled young heiress (Colbert) trying to escape the control of her father (nicely played by Walter Connelly). Dodging her father's private detective she takes a Miami to New York bus where she meets a recently fired reporter (Gable) who agrees to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. Cozy quarters and many adventures lead them to change their initial opinions of each other (brainless brat and obnoxious bully) as an undisclosed affection develops. On the eve of their arrival in New York they try to sort out their feelings for each other.
While the script is not really successful in convincingly illustrating the process of their falling in love (one minute they are just friends and the next they are in love), Capra is able to sell it with a simple connection process between these two characters which is at work throughout the film. As another reviewer has written: "Far from lovey-dovey, the dialogue is witty, sharp and occasionally heartless. We may know the outcome, but the road to get there is paved with arguments, anger and misunderstandings. It's also clever, funny and a bit risqué (for 1934)" . During their three days and nights together Colbert convincingly gives us a character who matures from a spoiled rich girl to a responsible adult, motivated by a desire to improve her companion's opinion of her. Gable shows real star presence, playing a confident, charming, and resourceful gentleman. By the end their sudden love is credible because they have demonstrated that they are both exactly what the other is looking for in a partner.
After the Oscar ceremony Capra threw a party where he downed a magnum of champagne and passed out on his front lawn clutching his Best Director Oscar.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.