She’s a spoiled heiress on the run. He’s a reporter desperate for a story. Their paths intertwine and change their paths forever. It all happens in Frank Capra’s landmark film It Happened One Night.
Wealthy heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is engaged to an an unsuitable match, prompting her father to separate her from her fiancee on a yacht. After jumping off the yacht, Ellie finds herself on the run. On a bus to New York, she meets Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a reporter in need of a good story. The pair go through a series of mishaps on their road and may perhaps find love along the way.
It Happened One Night considered to be a trailblazer in the screwball genre, serving a launching pad for many other screwball comedies. It also launched the career of Frank Capra, allowing him to make other well-known films and cementing his name as one of the greats. The film established a great many tropes and storylines that, while not strictly defined as a screwball comedy, are used to this day. These include: the comedy of marriage and remarriage and the leads of differing statuses.
Frank Capra is a director not known for his artistic style, but rather his stories. It Happened One Night is one of Capra’s early successes and lighter works. While it doesn’t confront social issues like Mr. Deeds Goes To Town or It’s a Wonderful Life, this film is still iconic. The film centers on both a remarriage of Ellie with King Westley and the marriage of Peter and Ellie. The first marriage is by Ellie as an impulsive heiress and as she journeys with Peter, she begins to learn her lesson and become a more suitable match. She is less impulsive and more thoughtful. This is a common Capra theme with his characters, as they learn their lessons via other characters.
For me, the best part of this film is the chemistry between the two leads. The casting is top-notch all around. But back to the leads. A screwball comedy is only as good as its two leads. In a classic screwball comedy, the leads will often be from different ends of the social ladder. It all leads to an ongoing friction and later unification of their worlds. Gable and Colbert are excellent together. Colbert brings an air of privilege without seeming too bratty and Gable returns in kind with a street-smart attitude that compliments her well. They are evenly matched, Gable brings his suave energy and Colbert matches him beat for beat. As they make their way to New York, they have many squabbles over the most inane things, from proper donut dunking to piggyback rides. But my personal favorite was the hitchhiking scene. It was the highlight of the film, making me laugh the most.
It Happened One Night is a hilarious film. It’s also a neat way to check out the beginning of the screwball comedy and how the tropes began. I enjoyed this film a lot, so much so that I want to find more screwball comedies in the future. While the the narrative beats feel a little well-worn now, the film still feels fresh and made me laugh a lot. I would give this film an A.
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