For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!! Will she make it? Well, it depends on whether or not she can finish the review below!)
Before I talk too much about the 1934 film It Happened One Night, I want to tell a story about legs.
I’ve always been insecure about having a slightly large nose and once, when I was 17 years old, I was giving my mom a hard time about the fact that I had basically inherited it from her. I was going on and on and being fairly obnoxious about it. (Yes, believe it or not, I can occasionally be obnoxious…)
Finally, my mom held up her hand and said, “Yes, you got your nose from me but you also got my legs so stop crying!”
And you know what? I glanced down at my legs and I realized that she was right and that made me feel a lot better. Ever since then, I’ve taken a lot of pride in having a good pair of legs.
Now, you may be asking yourself what that has to do with It Happened One Night. Well, It Happened One Night is one of the ultimate “good legs” movies. That’s because It Happened One Night features the famous scene in which Claudette Colbert teaches Clark Gable the proper way to hitchhike. (If I ever take up hitchhiking, I’m planning on using the same technique.)
That’s the scene that It Happened One Night is justifiably famous for. However, It Happened One Night is more than just a film about hitchhiking.
It’s also a romance, one that features Claudette Colbert at her wackiest and Clark Gable at his sexiest. Reportedly, the sell of undershirts plummeted after Clark Gable took off his shirt and revealed that he wasn’t wearing one.
It was one of the first road movies and it was such a success that it remains influential to this very day. Any time you watch a movie that features two seemingly different characters getting to know each other on a road trip, you’re watching a movie that exists because of It Happened One Night. (And yes, that includes Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.)
Frank Capra won his first Oscar for directing this film and It Happened One Night remains one of his most likable and least preachy films. Just compare the unpretentious, down-to-Earth style of It Happened One Night to Meet John Doe.
Perhaps most importantly, It Happened One Night was the first comedy to win the Oscar for best picture. It Happened One Night is a film that announces that a film doesn’t have to be a self-serious, pretentious epic to be great. Before the victory of It Happened One Night, the top prize was exclusively reserved for films like Cimarron and Calvalcade. (Seriously, just try watching some of those early winners today.) It Happened One Night‘s Oscar victory was a victory for the future of entertainment.
(By the way, as I sit here typing up this review, I keep accidentally typing It’s A Wonderful Life instead of It Happened One Night. That’s the power of Frank Capra.)
It Happened One Night tells the story of Pete Warne (Clark Gable). Pete is an out-of-work reporter. Though he may be down on his luck, he’s still confident and lovably cocky in that way that only Clark Gable could be. While riding on a bus from Florida to New York, Pete recognizes one of his fellow passengers as Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), an heiress who has recently eloped with a buffoonish big game hunter named King Westley (Jameson Thomas). Ellie’s father wants to get the marriage annulled and has people all over the country searching for his daughter. Pete agrees not to call Ellie’s father if Ellie will agree to give him an exclusive story when she meets up with Westley in New York.
For the rest of the film, we follow Pete and Ellie as they cross the United States, spending awkward nights in motel rooms, getting kicked off of buses, and hitchhiking. Ellie gives lessons on how to get a car to stop. Pete delivers a long monologue on the proper way to undress before going to bed. Along the way, Pete and Ellie fall in love. It also becomes obvious that Ellie’s father is right about Westley only marrying her for her money.
They also meet a large cast of increasingly eccentric characters. Whether they’re dealing with the passengers on the bus or the cranky people staying at a rest stop or a motorist who won’t stop singing, Pete and Ellie do noy meet anyone who doesn’t have at least one odd quirk. Like many classic screwball comedies, It Happened One Night takes place in a world where everyone — from a bus driver to a desk clerk to a group of women waiting to use a shower at a rest stop — has something to say about everything. Some of the film’s funniest moments come from watching the normally smooth Pete have to deal with the increasingly crazy world in which he’s found himself.
(For her part, Ellie is at her happiest when things are at their strangest. Ellie’s the best.)
The other great moments come from simply watching Gable and Colbert interact. They have an amazing chemistry and it comes through in their performances. It’d odd to read that apparently neither Gable nor Colbert were happy to be cast in It Happened One Night because their performances are so much fun to watch. A love story only works if you love the characters and the love story in It Happened One Night definitely works.
As I stated above, It Happened One Night was the first comedy to win Best Picture. Beyond that, it was also the first movie to win all of the top 5 Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. (Those were also the only 5 nominations that It Happened One Night received.) For once, the Academy got it right. It Happened One Night remains a delightful film.
(Oh my God, y’all, I did it! That’s 38 films reviewed in 10 days and my DVR now has space to record all sorts of things! And making it all the better is that I finished this project by reviewing a truly wonderful comedy like It Happened One Night!)