Claudette Colbert is a rich heiress who has decided, against her father’s wishes, to marry a gold digger. Her father puts out a reward for her return after she runs away. On her way to New York to meet up with her lover she runs into out of work reporter Clark Gable who recognizes her. He agrees to help her get to New York and they begin a screwy road trip courtesy of director Frank Capra.
Capra made several screwball comedies in the 1930’s but this 1934 pre-code film helped kick off things for Capra. Capra had been making films since the ’20s and he had a couple of hits but It Happened One Night put him up on top. The movie would become the first film to claim all top five awards at the Oscars, a feat not accomplished again until 1975 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The film is also notable for the hitchhiking scene. While on the road, Gable and Colbert are trying to get a lift. Gable proclaims that he is a master of hitching a ride but after several attempts he fails. Colbert gets up, shows some leg and boom! Instant ride. The scene has been copied and parodied ever since.
The movie didn’t start off as a hit, it actually took a bit for word of mouth to turn the film into a success. Gable and Colbert weren’t the director’s first choices for the roles either. Several other actors had turned the parts down because the script was one of the worst that they had read. Colbert only did the movie because her salary was doubled, although she felt while she was making it that it was one of the worst films she had ever made. Gable was on loan from MGM although urban legend stated that it was MGM’s attempt to punish Gable for something, although this claim has been refuted. Colbert wasn’t even at the Oscars when she won best actress, she was at the train station and had to be summoned to collect her award.
Around this time of year Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life usually gets all the play but It Happened One Night is celebrating it’s 80th anniversary and the Criterion Collection just released an excellent Blu-ray of the film restored and remastered. It looks fantastic. This is a great movie, it’s hilarious and there’s something about screwball comedies that I just enjoy.