Classic selection for the weekend of
October 15 - 17, 1999

      It Happened One Night

It is one of the most honored films in Hollywood history. It combined some of the biggest talents of the day, before they were huge stars. It even threatened the existence of an entire industry. It Happened One Night is one of the best films of all time, and the first to sweep all five major Oscar categories. The film was named Best Picture of 1934 and led to Academy Awards for Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Director Frank Capra and Screenwriter Robert Riskin. Since the movie was such a masterpiece, why was Gable dead set against being involved in the film that defined his career?

Colbert plays Ellie, an heiress with an independent streak. Against her father's (Walter Connelly) wishes, and most likely just to upset him, Ellie secretly eloped with a King. Once she informs her father of the clandestine wedding, he becomes furious and immediately begins to seek an annulment of the marriage. Ellie is tired of her father's domineering ways, so she jumps ship, literally. She dives off their yacht in Miami to make her way to New York to see the King.

Gable plays Peter, a washed up, alcoholic reporter who constantly bickers with his editor. When a drunk Peter goes too far in one of their arguments, the editor fires him leaving Peter stranded in Miami. He buys a bus ticket for New York and settles in for a long, quiet ride. As fate would have it, Ellie has bought a ticket on the same bus and ends up sitting with Peter.

He quickly learns who she is and about the frantic search being mounted for Ellie by the press and her father. Peter realizes that he could have the biggest story of his career and agrees to help her get to New York in exchange for an exclusive. As everything starts to go wrong in their quest to reach New York, the two find themselves falling in love. However, Peter is reluctant to act on his feelings because Ellie is a married woman. Can they find true love?

It Happened One Night almost didn't happen. After struggling to make it in Hollywood, Gable was starting to come into is own during the early part of the 30's. He had signed a contract with MGM, and was one of their consistent moneymakers. In 1934, legendary MGM chief Louis B. Mayer decided to loan Gable out to Columbia for It Happened One Night, which was considered a minor project at the time. Gable was furious. He didn't want to be loaned out to a lesser studio, didn't want to be working on a minor project, and didn't want to share billing with Colbert who was also starting to emerge as a star. Colbert was also upset about the arrangement for similar reasons.

Adding to the stars' discontent was director Frank Capra. At the time, he was considered a second rate director who showed some flashes of talent, but was better known for the Claudette Colbert starring flop, 1927's For the Love of Mike. Studios had much more control in those days, so the stars were forced to make the movie. The rest, as they say, is Hollywood history as It Happened One Night became an acclaimed film that propelled Columbia to major studio status and elevated Capra to the top tier of directors.

The movie contains some historical Hollywood scenes that have been mimicked many times over. Two scenes will jump out at you immediately. First, Claudette Colbert shows a little leg to succeed at hitchhiking. The other is when Gable puts a sheet over a strung out piece of rope to erect the walls of Jericho and separate the room into two halves. It Happened One Night set the standard for romantic and screwball comedies. The film created many gags and elements that are still used in film.

The movie also showed the impact Hollywood could have on American fashion and culture. During one scene, Gable undresses to reveal that he is not wearing an undershirt. Millions of men adopted this style and sent sales of undershirts plummeting throughout the thirties. The movie is credited with almost single-handedly destroying an the industry. T-shirt sales made a comeback after the emergence of Marlon Brando and James Dean in the 50's as rebels who wore undershirts.

Most movies from the past seem a little slower paced compared to what we are accustomed to today, but this film is remarkably paced as if made in the 90's. Do yourself a favor and rent one of America's finest films, It Happened One Night.

It Happened One Night: A+

Director: Frank Capra

Writer: Robert Riskin


Clark Gable …………………….. Peter

Claudette Colbert ……………….. Ellie

Alan Hale ……………………….. Danker

Walter Connolly ………………… Andrews

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