Monday, April 14, 2014

1934 - It Happened One Night

I recently ventured into the realm of viral videos (sort of) by creating a montage of movie characters screaming, "I'm walking here!" in homage to Dustin Hoffman's famous delivery in Midnight Cowboy. I don't really know why I took the time to make this, but if you're a film buff and you want a brief smile, check out the video here and then share away.

The next film up for discussion is 1934's eventual Best Picture winner...


It Happened One Night
Director:
Frank Capra
Screenplay:
Robert Riskin
(based on the short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
Starring:
Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
5 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gable) and Best Actress (Colbert)

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy businessman (Connolly), held against her will on a boat off the coast of Miami while her father attempts to annul her recent elopement. Escaping by jumping overboard, Ellie then attempts to make her way to New York to her new husband. But wily reporter Peter Warne (Gable) recognizes the missing heiress when they sit next to each other on the bus. Seeing this as his chance to pick up the scoop of a lifetime, he makes a deal with Ellie, promising not to call her father if she'll give him her exclusive story. The two spend the journey in each other's pockets, which ... well, it's a romantic comedy, you can figure out the rest.

It's hard to deny the excellence of It Happened One Night. A pioneer of screwball comedy, and romantic comedy in general, everything just comes together sublimely. Interestingly, what I so lamented with fellow Best Picture nominee One Night of Love, namely the formulaic plot, works brilliantly here. It just goes to show how much of a story's success is in the execution. Where One Night of Love felt run-of-the-mill with average performances, It Happened One Night uses a similar formulaic structure but imbues it with interesting characters, witty repartee and dynamic performances. Plus, it includes such entertaining - and now sadly obsolete - phrases like, "Holy jumping catfish!"

If I had to find one gripe about the film, though, it would have to be its conclusion. In typical romantic comedy fashion - spoiler alert - the leading couple end up together at the end, a fittingly satisfying wrap-up for films of this genre. However, It Happened One Night accomplishes this without actually showing it on screen. We see Ellie bolt from her wedding before saying, "I do," to the wrong man, then we later cut to a hotel in which the owners are discussing the newly married tenants. One last close-up of the "Walls of Jericho" falling and ... The End. No passionate embrace, no smiles of relief, no longing gazes. As an audience member, I felt somehow robbed of a final cathartic moment.

A large portion of the film is two-handed scenes between our protagonists. No surprise, after all, considering the story is all about Ellie and Peter, and their relationship. Thankfully, they are played by two stars of great charisma and amiability, and despite the initial egotism of their characters, the performances of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert (both pictured) and their chemistry together are divine. A particularly brilliant moment unfolds when the two pretend to be a bickering married couple to avoid nosy detectives.

Both Gable and Colbert won Oscars for their roles, as did Frank Capra and Robert Riskin for their direction and writing, respectively. Rounding it all off was a win for Best Picture, giving the film five for five. And not just any five. That's the Big Five - Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. Only One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs have repeated that achievement. Yet despite all the accolades, It Happened One Night still failed miserably to match their stunt bus driver to the actor playing the easily distracted coachman. Not even close.

2 comments:

  1. Ah, yes - the iconic "I'm walking here" and like some other great lines, it was an ad-lib. I also got to look at your other youtube videos, and have got to say, that you can really put over an American accent, Matt. I got a David Paymer vibe from some of your work. I can picture you in his Leo Devoe role in Get Shorty.

    It Happened One Night really deserves its status as one of the best of the thirties romances. I've never been a particularly big fan of either Colbert or Gable, but they were perfectly matched here. While it would have been nice to see some on screen passion at the end, it wouldn't be the only time the audience would be deprived of an "at last" kiss. After C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) finally professes his adoration to Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) the best he can get is a "shut up and deal" response from her. Another thirty years down the road, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan give us a hand squeeze at the end of Sleepless in Seattle. Maybe the filmmakers want us to imagine what comes next as we leave the theater so the movie will stay with us longer.

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  2. I'm quite the fan of David Paymer, so I'll take it! I loved him in Mr. Saturday Night (his only Oscar nomination, if I'm not mistaken).

    Yes, there seem to be many films lacking that "at last" kiss (as the next review that I just posted attests to). But I have to say I kind of understand why it's missing in Sleepless In Seattle. Hanks' and Ryan's characters never truly meet in person during the film, so a kiss at the end may have seemed contrived (more so than the concept of the film itself). A hand squeeze is a nice indication of the fact that their relationship is just about to begin. But when a film builds up the lead couple's relationship for two hours by having them share all sorts of experiences together, a kiss is the least we should get. ;-)

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