A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 567 – It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night – September 18th, 2011

Early on in my relationship with Andy he went on a little bit of a mission to introduce me to movies he enjoyed but that I hadn’t seen. See why this project really is perfect for us? I remember two specific titles from that time. I remember watching them in my parents’ living room. It’s entirely likely that there were more than two, but the ones I remember are The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and this. And regardless of any other reason, that’s why I put it on the list of things I wanted to add to the collection for this project. Oh, I enjoy the movie itself, it it’s the experience of watching it with Andy that sticks in my mind more than anything on the screen.

Watching this again for the first time in over ten years, I will admit I had glossed over a few things in my memory. And I’d like to think that they’re things from the time period the movie was made in and set in and that romantic comedies today are better. But I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail and enough of What Women Want to know better. Modern romantic comedies aren’t really much better in terms of how the male lead treats and talks about the female lead. They’re just a little more oblique about it. But such is the case with romantic comedies in general. At least with one from 1934 I can pretend we’ve progressed since then and we would never now see a man throw a woman over his shoulder and forcibly remove her from the scene over her protests. Silly me! That’s totally a thing of the past. I’m sure such romantic comedies as The Bounty Hunter are better than that. And so long as I don’t watch them, I can live in peace.

Anyhow! Since this movie is from the 1930s it is, of course, in black and white. I do love a good black and white movie. And it stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I’ve got to admit, Gable’s never been my cup of tea. He’s all well and good, but he doesn’t bowl me over. Colbert, on the other hand, is fantastic. I love her in this role, even if she was reticent about taking it in the first place. I think perhaps she is what makes this movie memorable for me. Because her role could be so very unpleasant. She plays Ellie Andrews, a rich and spoiled heiress who married a man against her father’s wishes. When her father tries to hold her on his yacht for long enough to get the marriage annulled, Ellie dives over the side and swims to shore to try and reach New York before her father’s men catch her. Now, on one hand there’s the pretty clearly gross control being exerted over Ellie by her father. On the other, it becomes apparent over the course of the movie that she married as a show of rebellion, and that it wasn’t marriage that her father objected to so much as the groom in particular. Okay. Fine. Let’s move on. The thing is, if you accept that Ellie is the sort of person who does things like marrying a man her father hates just to spite him then that doesn’t cast her in the best light. But the combination of the script, which provides a good amount of information about the total lack of privacy and autonomy Ellie’s always lived with, and Colbert’s portrayal of a young woman desperate to live her own life, the character becomes more than sympathetic.

I have a much harder time finding Clark Gable’s Peter Warne sympathetic, mostly because he seems to be just as much of a controlling ass as every other man in her life and the character feels like an eerie precursor to the paparazzi of today. When he realizes just who this young lady on the bus to New York is, he tells her he won’t say a word so long as she sticks with him and he gets and exclusive on her story when they reach New York. If she doesn’t stick with him then he’ll go straight to her father. Yuck. And it’s not a ploy for her attention at that point in time. He thinks she’s a spoiled brat. And she is spoiled and she is sort of bratty, but she gets better as the movie goes on and she’s introduced to the regular world (as opposed to the extremely privileged but prohibitively sheltered world she’s been living in). Peter, on the other hand, remains sort of a jerk for much of the movie. A charming jerk, but still. That’s the character. Part of the story is that while Ellie is falling for Peter, Peter remains aloof, not wanting to admit to how he feels about her.

And why is that important? Well, this is a romantic comedy, after all. Which means the two leads can’t possibly just tell each other they’re interested and live happily ever after. One hallmark of the genre is crossed wires and a big to-do at the end where one thinks the other’s not interested and someone has to help them sort things out. Not present in every romantic comedy, but it’s definitely something I consider fairly standard. So by the end, when Peter wants to ask Ellie to marry him and Ellie’s totally smitten, does he tell her? No. Instead he takes off in the middle of the night, doesn’t tell her he’s leaving, let alone where he’s going and why, and she wakes up to the owners of the camp site they’re staying in kicking her out because clearly she can’t pay. She assumes Peter’s run off on her and since he hasn’t said anything to imply that he returns her feelings, she also assumes he’s gone for good. You can figure out how it plays from there. Watching it tonight I was struck by how similar the ending is to Spaceballs, of all things. But then, Mel Brooks knows movies.

So okay, viewed today it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But as a piece from its time it’s a little different. A little interesting. Certainly I think it handles itself better than many romantic comedies, regardless of time period. And the writing and acting are both well done. By the end of the movie I end up even liking Ellie’s father. It’s got some good laughs in it, especially when Ellie and Peter have to improvise some play-acting to convince people looking for Ellie that she’s someone totally different. The people leave, they go back to normal, and then the next knock on the door sends them right back into their act. It’s a nice little bit of connection between the two characters, regardless of the content of the play-acting itself. The content isn’t the point. The point is that these two people who never intended to ever be in this sort of situation are working together without having to discuss things ahead of time. And that in turn makes the eventual ending more believable than not. And that, along with fond memories of the first time I saw it, are why we have this in our collection.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

It Happened One Night

September 18, 2011

It Happened One Night

When Amanda and I started to expand our collection to include more classic films as a counterweight to all the fluffy action and sci-fi we own this movie was one of the ones she specifically asked for. I’m not altogether sure why., though. I mean, I like the movie, and it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening, but I don’t know what it was that drew her to the film. After all, this is a romantic comedy – one of the more famous ones – and that’s not generally a genre of film that Amanda enjoys.

There’s no denying that it’s a great movie though. As we watched this I was struck by how influential the film is. It’s clearly one of the inspirations for the Shrek movie. Bugs Bunny creator Fritz Freleng based his cartoon rabbit on parts of this movie. And of course there’s the infamous story about how this movie single handedly destroyed undershirt sales in the thirties.

From the trivia on IMDB it would appear that this was a rather troubled production. Claudette Colbert certainly didn’t enjoy it even though she seems to have gotten a little bit too much into character and tried to run away from the Oscars the way her character tries to skip out on her father.

The plot of the film is astonishingly simple. A young heiress, fed up with being told what to do by her rich banker father, has gone and eloped with a playboy pilot, much to her father’s chagrin. When her father tries to confine her to their yacht in Miami she dives overboard determined to get back to New York. Of course her father immediately sends his detectives in search of her, so she is hounded at every turn on her journey.

Along the way she meets a brash, witty, fast-talking newspaper man who decides to escort her in exchange for the story. They but heads, bicker and generally get on each other’s nerves. Then they of course fall in love with each other because you can’t go on a road trip with somebody in a movie without falling in love with them. (See also Tommy Boy and Trains, Planes and Automobiles.)

It’s not the plot that really drives the movie, of course. It’s the charm. Director Frank Capra knew a little about how to portray a simple, down-to-Earth sort of America. He did it so well in It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This movie takes place in that America. I don’t know if this America honestly existed back in those days with it’s ma-and-pop auto camps, smiling police officers and singing bus passengers, but it looks like a fun place to live. Even the thief that Peter and Ellie meet on the road is a jocular fellow with a penchant for song.

More than that it’s the two leads that really sell the movie. It’s hard to believe, watching their performances, that they were not having a great time making the film. Clark Gable is all smooth talking charm as Peter Warne, but also manages to give his character a lot of heart. He’s clearly not as mercenary and cold as he would like to appear, and shows some real tenderness. As Ellie Claudette Colbert likewise is able to imbue her character with a real kind of vulnerability under all the spoiled and haughty airs. The two of them have real chemistry, and watching these two characters sparring and inevitably falling for one another is simply fun.

This movie is so disarmingly pleasant. Some of its nineteen-thirties attitudes seem somewhat dated today, what with the constant smoking and the casual way that Peter talks about Ellie deserving to be beaten by her new husband. He spanks her at one point to end a silly argument about piggy back rides which I suppose is in keeping with his assertion that she’s a poorly raised spoiled brat, but I wonder if it was as shocking then as it is now. Mostly however this movie is just about the witty repartee of these two people, and about how they come to find that they deserve each other. I’m glad we added it to our collection and I’m glad we watched it tonight.

September 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments