It Happened One Night
Directed by Frank Capra. US. 1934. NR. 105 minutes. Sony. Digital.
Sun., August 2, 2015
The plot is a simple one: a spoiled, sharp-tongued heiress (Claudette Colbert) escapes her overprotective father by jumping fully clothed from his yacht, then slipping onto a Miami-to-New York Greyhound bus. While the press goes wild looking for her, a self-made, boastful reporter (Clark Gable) discovers her secret and agrees to keep it—if she gives him exclusive rights to her story. The two loathe each other at first, engaging in a feast of petty arguments and childish one-upmanship, even as they find themselves falling in love.
It’s difficult today to fully appreciate how groundbreaking this sublime slice of Americana was. While other Depression-era films tended toward heavy melodrama or escapist musical, this one was different: a sophisticated and somehow simultaneously silly comedy in which the male and female leads exasperate one another. Name a classic screwball comedy or cinematic battle of the sexes (Bringing up Baby, The Lady Eve, The Philadelphia Story, Adam’s Rib, His Girl Friday, for starters), and you’ll find at its heart this delectable romp, the first great film in both genres. Gable and Colbert have a wonderful chemistry, and the movie boasts a host of enduring moments—from the hitchhiking scene to the “Walls of Jericho,” in which a blanket over a clothesline affords the unmarried couple a tenuous decency at bedtime. The film was the first to sweep all five major Oscars (picture, actor, actress, director, and screenplay), and it’s as fresh and delightful as ever. (Lee Berger)