by Brek the David
Director: Frank Capra Screenplay: Robert Riskin Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Golbert, Walter Connolly OSCAR COUNT (5) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay – first film in history to win the big five at the Academy.
Let’s face it, It Happened One Night is the formula for pretty much every romantic comedy that’s ever come after it. This isn’t a bad thing though, as this film is kind of a modern retelling as Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. This formula works and it’s basically like printing money. I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies, but I do appreciate them when they’re well done. Since I’m not a big fan, I haven’t seen every romantic comedy under the sun, but I can’t see how they’d be able to match It Happened One Night. Well there is The Graduate, but that film seems more a deconstruction of the romantic comedy.
Obviously, for a romantic comedy to work there has to be chemistry between the leading lady and the leading man. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert have this in spades. For those that haven’t seen this film, Colbert plays a rich spoiled heiress that runs away from her arranged marriage. Gable is a down on his luck reporter that’s just been fired. On a bus to wherever, the destination not being important, the two meet and it is not love at first sight. He sees her as a naïve awkward woman, and she sees him as a rude, overbearing man. Once he finds out who she is though, he’s stuck to her like glue. It Happened One Night shines the most when the two are locked in a verbal duel. It’s a game she can’t win since she’s been sheltered her whole life, but she often gives as good as she gets. It’s quite fascinating, not to mention entertaining (both humorous and touching), as both begin to see each other’s good qualities that endear them to one another, until they finally realize they love one another.
While dated with the music, clothes, and speech of the day, It Happened One Night is still timeless with its themes. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra had the uncanny knack for making films that stand the test of time. The film still looks great to this day and remains just as fun and light hearted as it was then. As mentioned earlier, films have been trying to match the frivolity of It Happened One Night for decades. Almost all have to fallen short. Also, It Happened One Night was the first film to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Best Actor, and Best Actress at the Academy Awards. This feat has only ever been duplicated twice with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs.
While nothing is revolutionary here in this film, it does what it’s supposed to do to near perfection. Its only flaw in my opinion is that Gable and Colbert are so good together; the scenes they aren’t involved in lose steam quickly. It’s not that the scenes are poorly done; it’s just that Gable and Colbert are so damn good together. So the film’s biggest strength is indirectly its biggest weakness and it’s no one’s fault. That’s a pretty good flaw to be “marred” by though for sure. The best thing about the film is that it shows when you’re down and out, when the deck has dealt you a bad hand, things can turn around in a hurry. That ace is coming.