A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,


  1. I’d like to watch more classic films, and I’d never heard of this one. Thanks for the great review!

    Comment by Steph | September 19, 2011 | Reply

    • Always happy to introduce people to new movies. Especially when they’re so charming and fun as this one.

      Comment by tanatoes | September 22, 2011 | Reply

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