Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Happened One Night (1934)

Fig 1 - It Happened One Night Poster
Directed by Frank Capra, It Happened One Night stars Claudette Colbert as Ellie, the heiress of a wealthy New York family, who abandons the boat on which her father is attempting to talk her out of marriage to a sleazy aviator named Westley (Jameson Thomas). News of Ellie's disappearance soon hits the headlines and a reward of ten-thousand dollars creates a nationwide buzz for any information on her whereabouts. On a bus en-route to her husband, Ellie meets Peter (Clark Gable), a confident reporter in dire need of a scoop to make ends meet. Peter is immediately taken with Ellie, though his predisposition regarding the upper classes brings him to jibe and poke-fun at her attempts to travel across the country alone. After Ellie's bag is stolen, Peter takes it upon himself to chaperone her the rest of the journey, slowly but surely gaining her trust with his quick wit and sense of adventure. The two eventually find ease in avoiding Ellie's captors by travelling as a 'married couple', however there is an undoubted tension between them that neither are able to ignore...

The film was the first of four in Oscar history to take home all major awards in which it was nominated, including Best Writing (Robert Riskin), Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), Best Actor (Clark Gable) and Best Picture of 1934.

I deliberately settled into the film with no prior knowledge of the plot and within the first twenty minutes found myself so taken-aback by just about everything it has to offer. The first notable element was it's gorgeous combination of editing and cinematography by Gene Havlick and Joseph Walker respectively. As the film is set primarily 'on the road', it's pacing is forced to keep the camera moving and fix our attention to the fact that Ellie is vulnerable to the public by putting the leads in very busy environments. There's a clear sense of claustrophobia to the packed buses taking Ellie and Peter here and there, though their unconventional sense of chemistry manages to alleviate any doubt to the fact that they are indeed a couple.

Fig 2 - It Happened One Night - Ellie and Peter
Speaking of which, I could scarcely fault the legitimacy of the main players. From the get-go, both Ellie and Peter establish themselves as strong-willed characters in very different ways. For Ellie, her independence is clearly a thing of pride as she has lived a sheltered life under the guise of her wealth, even stating that she'd met her husband whilst avoiding the body-guards appointed to her whilst out shopping. Peter however, demonstrates a sense of street-wise that clashes with Ellie's ability to merely buy herself out of situations. Using his words and gumption, Peter proves himself resourceful as the journey becomes evermore dire, managing to forage for food, find transportation and even convince a couple to let them stay in their motel. But ultimately, the two work best when they are playing off one another as faux-newlyweds, almost having fun in the dramatics of fending off investigators desperate for Ellie's return.

Of course, the entire basis of the film lies on a phenomenal script by Robert Riskin, who diverts genre conventions by allowing just enough romance to slip through their unlikely relationship so that the audience may genuinely wonder as to whether they 'will or won't'. All the while, the dialogue is a timeless display of hilarity throughout, certainly making for one of the funniest films I've yet to encounter on the list thus far.

Overall, It Happened One Night is one of the most relatable classics I've yet to come across and surpasses a plethora of rom-coms made decades later. The characters are real, the laughs are genuine and the production is stunning. Put it on one night and let it happen.


Fig. 1 It Happened One Night Poster (1934) From: It Happened One Night - Directed by: Frank Capra

Fig. 2 It Happened One Night Screenshot (1934) From: It Happened One Night - Directed by: Frank Capra

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