MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #46. It Happened one Night (1934)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

“Any guy that’d fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined.”

Clear, predictable formula is something that gets pointed at a lot when talking about bad movies.  But I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with movies following a tried and true formula, as long as it’s done well.  And the reason these formulas have been used so many times that even the most casual move goer can recognise them in action, is that they work.  A good movie can take a formula, adhere to the rules, hit every beat you expect when you expect it, but still surprise you in some ways.  If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy, you’ll know the rules and every beat of It Happened One Night.  But with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert at its centre, and with Frank Capra doing his thing behind the camera, I reckon you’ll still be surprised by just how watchable it is.

Spoiled little rich girl Ellie (Colbert) has just eloped, and her Wall Street mogul father, Alexander (Walter Connolly) is trying to force her to have the marriage annulled.  Diving off his is luxury yacht in Florida, Ellie runs (swims) away, determined to be with her new husband in New York.  Meanwhile, professional journalist and professional drunk Peter (Gable) has just been fired from his job at a newspaper.

Ellie and Peter meet at a train station when he points out that her bags have been stolen.  Broke and obviously a little out of her element, Peter says he’ll help her get to New York if she’ll let him write a story about it.  You see, Alexander has offered a reward for anyone who’ll help him track Ellie down, and she’s now the biggest story in the country.  They hit the road and start making their way north, one argument at a time.  Until they start to fall for each other.

Gable was only in his early 30s when he made It Happened one Night, and his relative youthfulness was really noticeable.  It’s also perfect for the character of Peter.  I always think of Clark Gable as this authority figure, a strong, intimidating presence of unflappable confidence who needs to be of a certain age to carry all of that.  But here, Peter is a bit of a screw up.  He drinks too much and hasn’t earned the cockiness he projects.  Without seeing this movie, I never would have thought Clark Gable could pull that off.  But this fresh faced version of Gable nails it.

I feel like an old woman using this word, but there’s really no other way to describe It Happened One Night than as delightful.  It birthed the screwball comedies that would fill cinemas for the next couple of decades, and it is the blueprint for pretty much every romantic comedy still being made today.  And even though it’s been ripped off and imitated countless times in the years since, there’s something about this movie that seems fresh.  You can just tell these guys were doing something new at the time.

It Happened One Night
Directed By – Frank Capra
Written By – Robert Riskin         

Academy Awards
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Gable
Best Actress – Colbert
Best Adapted Screenplay

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