Movie Critique – It Happened One Night

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Impeccable chemistry, timing of comedy, lyrics tunes to entertain, with some life-meaning lessons, as the hero and heroine make their way to their destination in a bus; as they find love and adventure. A rom-com that keeps entertaining 86 years after its release and one can never get enough of it.  

It Happened One Night is a 1934 American pre-Code era romantic comedy film starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the lead cast. Directed and co-Produced by Frank Capra along with Harry Cohn, the film is based on a short story "Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams published in August of 1933, with screenplay by Robert Riskin

This was the last film produced before the Motion Picture Production Code being rigidly enforced from July of 1934. This is also the first of the only three films to win all five major Academy Awards at the 7th Academy Awards for 1934 - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay; the only one for both Gable and Colbert.

Ellen "Ellie" Andrews (portrayed by Claudette Colbert), a pampered socialite and heiress, elopes and marries fortune hunter "King" Westley (portrayed by Jameson Thomas). But her father, Alexander Andrews (portrayed by Walter Connolly) tries to get the marriage annulled when Ellie escapes again and heads to New York City to reunite with her husband. Peter Warne (portrayed by Clark Gable), a newspaper reporter, recognizes her on the bus, and befriends her in the beginning for a story. But as their journey continues, and after several adventures they face together, they fall in love unknowingly. Now they have to face their choices, fears and hearts to find their true destiny.

In real-life, both Gable and Colbert were dissatisfied with the original script which was rewritten for their needs. However Colbert behaved every bit a spoiled heiress off-screen as well with director Capra. Finished in four weeks, the film opened as a so-so film. Eventually word of mouth and secondary movie theater releases made it a box office smash hit, the biggest for Columbia Picture to date.

With so much drama and dissatisfaction by the cast off-screen, it is amazing that the film actually became a success. Perhaps the off-screen bickering reflected in the on-screen chemistry as a positive fire rather than a negative blob. 

Clark Gable is as ravishing he can be as Peter Warne, with dry humor and penchant to go after stories that would eventually fall flat. Yet he is a reporter who is proud of his work, a straight arrow in character, and both fascinated and frustrated with Colbert's Ellie. This is my first time watching a Clark Gable film. If I was born during his time I would certainly have fallen in love with him, not that I didn’t fall now. :P 

And the famous "Walls of Jericho" from the film that left a mark in the industry forever.

Other aspects of the film that are memorable are - the famous hitchhiking scene here Peter Warne shows to Ellie Andrews the various ways one can ask for a ride, only to realize her method was more effective than his. Warne's dream of writing a book on hitchhiking remains short-lived.

And don’t forget the famous song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" sung by passengers on the bus. Director Frank Capra makes a cameo appearance as one of the passengers in the bus. He sings the third couplet of the song.

Director Capra combined hero and comedian into one character with Gable's Peter Warne. Although Colbert's Ellie gives her own share of comic relief to the plot. Gable and Colbert were casted in this film as a punishment by Adolf Zukor of Paramount and Louis B. Mayer by MGM who loaned them to this film. Capra hit gold with this cast, their punishment turned into huge reward for Capra in the end. 

Capra's magic in the film made it the very first screwball comedy which lead to several of them being made for next couple decades. Capra created a new genre in the films with this success - romantic comedy - even though that term doesn’t take off until a few decades. 

Incidentally Colbert was very confident that she would not win the award, had planned to go on her vacation. However when she was named the winner, Producer Cohn, got her dragged from her train and brought to the event. She is seen accepting her award wearing a two-piece traveling suit which mas custom-made by designer, Travis Burton, specially for her trip. She receive her very first and only Oscar at the hands of the 6-year old child artiste Shirley Temple. Here is a stock photo from Oscars website, and checkout her outfit.

Even towards the end of her life, being the last surviving member of the film (credited and uncredited cast included), 62 years after it's release, Colbert still was surprised that this film became such a cult classic with so many influences and adaptations across the world which neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to do in the first place. Despite her immense dislike, this film only added to her successful banner year of 1934.

The film also helped in increase and decrease of sales for some businesses such as - undershirt sales declined after Gable was shown shirtless; travelling by bus picked up interest after Greyhound prominently shown in the film.

The film though titled "It Happened One Night", the story takes place over a period of four nights. For a romantic comedy, there are far less romantic scenes between the two protagonists. In fact they don’t even have one kissing scene in the film. 

Colbert has only four outfits in the entire film - a nightgown in the beginning of the film, her traveling suit, Gable's pajamas and her wedding dress.

The movie comes with a plethora of actors and actresses who were not credited for their part in the film, but have made a mark for themselves in film, theater, tv or radio successfully. A few of them are Buck Woods (portraying the cook who is selling hot dogs at the bus terminal); Roscoe Karns (portraying the role of Oscar Shapely, a fellow passenger on the bus); and several others playing the role of passengers on the bus.

Impeccable chemistry, timing of comedy, lyrics tunes to entertain, with some life-meaning lessons, as the hero and heroine make their way to their destination in a bus; as they find love and adventure. A rom-com that keeps entertaining 86 years after its release and one can never get enough of it.  

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The other two films that won all the five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay) are the 1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and 1991 The Silence of the Lambs.

b. This film along with the 1958 Gigi, 1987 The Last Emperor and 2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, hold the record for winning all the awards in every single major category they were nominated at the Academy Awards including Best Picture.

c. At the bus station where Ellie boards a bus to New York City, we see friends of Gable's Peter Warne calling him "The King" and reciting slogans in his wake such as "Make way for the King", "Long Love the King" and such others. In real-life Gable's nickname is "King".

d. Actor Ward Bond has an uncredited role of the bus driver in the film. In real-life, Bond and Gable are closest of closest friends.

e. Sadly though one of the minor role cast member, Blanche Friderici, who portrayed the role of Zeke's, the auto camp owner, wife, passed away two months before the movie was first released.

f. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert made another film six years later, Boom Town in 1940, but they could never create the same magic or success again that they achieved in this film. 

g. According to an article dated February 23, 1934, in New York Times, the Silly Symphony's short The China Shop (1934) was featured after this film in the theaters during it's initial releases. I found that on YouTube here:

h. Characterization of Bugs Bunny by Friz Freleng, who premiered 6 years after this film released, was inspired by the film - Gable eating carrots and talking like Bugs; Shapely keeps calling Gable as "Doc"; Shapely is afraid of an imaginary character called "Bugs Dooley".

i. Several remakes and adaptations were inspired by this film:

i. 1945 musical Eve Knew Her Apples starring Ann Miller and 1956 musical You Can't Run Away from It starring June Allyson and Jack Lemmon, which was directed and produced by Dick Powell.

ii. The wedding scene at the end of Heartbreaker (1983) is a reprise of the wedding scene in this film.

iii. Adapted as a radio play on March 20, 1939 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with Colbert and Gable reprising their roles. Also adapted as a radio play for January 28, 1940, broadcast of The Campbell Playhouse, starring Orson Welles (Mr. Andrews), William Powell (Peter Grant) and Miriam Hopkins (Ellie Andrews).

iv. Several Indian films have also been adapted from this film - three Hindi adaptations (1956 Chori Chori, 1957 Nau Do Gyarah and 1991 Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin); 1959 Bengali film Chaoa Paoa; two Tamil adaptations (1966 Chandrodhavam and 2000 Kadhal Rojayae); and finally the 2007 Kannada adaptation Hudugaata.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Ellie is stubborn to go to her side of the room, Warne undresses in front of her, and right before he does his pant, the scene shows Ellie ready to bolt. But the very next shot when they show Ellie leaning against the wall, she stands for a second before she bolts to the other side. Perhaps the editing didn’t remove the few seconds of her standing still when the film was rolled in that direction.

b. Note the table set by Warne for their breakfast - it has a stack of 6 or so sliced bread and six doughnuts among others. But when they settle down to eat, you can see only two doughnuts and no bread at all. I guess between shots the cast consumed the food. :P

c. When Ellen asks Zeke, the auto camp owner, to use telephone, his wife refuses and asks her to go to the sheriff's office. Later the newspaper reporter mentions that she telephones her father from an auto camp.

d. When Warne is following Andrews after she was picked up outside of Philadelphia, a road sign is clearly visible reading "California U.S. 101". 


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