It Happened One Night (1934)
September 28, 2015 9:08 PM - Subscribe

A spoiled heiress, running away from her family, is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.

AMC FilmSite:
"It Happened One Night (1934) is one of the greatest romantic comedies in film history, and a film that has endured in popularity. It is considered one of the pioneering 'screwball' romantic comedies of its time, setting the pattern for many years afterwards along with another contemporary film, The Thin Man (1934).

"The escapist theme of the film, appropriate during the Depression Era, is the story of the unlikely romantic pairing of a mis-matched couple - a gruff and indifferent, recently-fired newspaper man (Gable) and a snobbish, superior-acting heiress (Colbert) - a runaway on the lam. It is a reversal of the Cinderella story (the heroine rejects her wealthy lifestyle), a modern tale with light-hearted sex appeal in which courtship and love triumph over class conflicts, socio-economic differences, and verbal battles of wit.

"The madcap film from Columbia Studios (one of the lesser studios) was an unexpected runaway box office sleeper hit (especially after it began to play in small-town theaters), and it garnered the top five Academy Awards (unrivaled until 1975, forty-one years later by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) - and then again by The Silence of the Lambs (1991).) It won all five of its nominated categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), Best Director (Frank Capra), and Best Adaptation (Robert Riskin).
New York Times film review by Mordaunt Hall, published February 23, 1934:
"'It Happened One Night' is a good piece of fiction, which, with all its feverish stunts, is blessed with bright dialogue and a good quota of relatively restrained scenes. Although there are such flighty notions as that of having Ellie running away from a marriage ceremony when the guests—and particularly King Westley—had expected to hear her say 'I will'; or those depicting Warne volleying vituperation over the telephone at his city editor; there are also more sober sequences wherein Warne and Ellie spread cheer to the audience, notwithstanding their sorry adventures with little or no money.

"Miss Colbert gives an engaging and lively performance. Mr. Gable is excellent in his role. Roscoe Karns affords no little fun by his flirtatious conduct on board a bus. Walter Connolly is in his element as Ellie's father and Alan Hale gives a robust portrayal of an artful owner of a flivver." examines the famous story of men's undershirt sales declining rapidly after Clark Gable removed his shirt in the film to reveal no undershirt. ("Geoffrey Beene adds: 'When Gable, in that famous scene, took off his shirt and he had no undershirt on, he suddenly made all sorts of men realize, "Why do I have to wear an undershirt if Clark Gable doesn't wear an undershirt?"" - the famous shirt scene).

Film trailer

Memorable quote:

Ellie Andrews: Aren't you going to give me a little credit?
Peter Warne: What for?
Ellie Andrews: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
Peter Warne: Why didn't you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie Andrews: Well, ooo, I'll remember that when we need forty cars.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I love the bit of this movie where everyone on the bus sings The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. I always enjoy the movie a lot - the carrot! forty cars! the walls of Jericho! - but I especially like that moment of random sweetness.

Also there is a Bollywood remake, which I can't exactly recommend but I thought was worth mentioning. They sing a lot, but there's no equivalent to the flying trapeze moment, so it's not as good a film.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:23 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I won a free beer at a trivia night because I knew the undershirt thing. I wasn't technically competing for that particular question but no one knew the answer so after several minutes I butted in.

All the domestic violence jokes are less swoon-worthy, though.
posted by chaiminda at 3:44 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The snopes link is linking back to this post.

This is one of my top three films from the 1930s. I didn't come across it until fairly late in life as most of my B&W knowledge is from the BBC film showings of the 70s and 80s and the US featured less. Its enjoyable, well written and clearly influential on so many later Hollywood comedies. I've never really been a Gable fan but both he and Colbert are excellent here.
posted by biffa at 4:33 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

My favorite scene is Gable's telephone call from the bus station trying to get his old job back and then his martyred walk to the bus: Make Way for the King.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:05 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A quick round of Capra Motif Bingo:

-"Cloths Which Collapse"
-"Motorcycles as symbols of power of the wealthy"
-Air transport
-"Formal day wear as symbol of upper class worthlessness"
posted by Iridic at 8:28 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

The "it" in the title is "emotional abuse leading to Stockholm Syndrome." I really want to love this movie, but Gable is so aggressive in his disdain for Colbert's character that he's just thoroughly unlikable to me here. Which, needless to say, makes it hard to appreciate as a romcom...

Having said that, there are a a couple of great absurdist highlights, like the Seinfeldian exchange about piggyback riding or Gable's Barney Fife-like monologue on his hitchhiking expertise.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:48 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree. Gable's constant threats and insults (which basically encompasses what he does onscreen in this movie) hardly scream "promising romance."
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2015

Coincidentally, I was just reading a book which mentions that the US Communist Party press denounced this movie as "an insult to every woman who ever contributed to social progress."
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:50 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

And yet! "[It Happened One Night was] reputed to be one of Joseph Stalin’s favourite movies."
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2015

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