It Happened One Night (1934)

Directed by Frank Capra
Cinematography Joseph Walker
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.
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This classic never loses its magic! Romance, warmth & humor!

13 May 2001 | by gmmax (Peoria, Illinois) – See all my reviews

This sweet comedy never loses its appeal. Claudette Colbert is a spoiled young girl who meets a worldly, attractive newspaper reporter (Clark Gable). In the beginning, she treats him like a servant, but he never knuckles under to this behavior. The interaction between these two is very romantic and humorous. It is the classic portrayal of what may be called “sexual tension.” He takes care of her – does not take advantage of her – but makes her realize that her wealthy background cannot carry her through as a human being, she has to earn his respect by treating him with respect. There is a scene in which the two of them are forced to hitchhike, and their “breakfast” is only a handful of carrots plucked from a garden they were lucky to find. As Gable stands at the edge of the road and Colbert is perched atop a wooden fence, his wisecracking posture is said to be the inspiration for the beloved cartoon character Bugs Bunny. This is a must-see for every one who loves old movies, and entertaining for all.

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A fantastic Capra film.

Author: emma502 from iowa city, iowa
7 May 2003

It Happened One Night directed by Frank Capra was made and released in 1934 by Columbia Pictures as a small budget film that was not expected to do well at the box office. Yet, after its release the film gained many accolades and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1934. Due to the original small nature of the film, the leading man role was surprisingly filled by Clark Gable who was on loan from another studio. He stared opposite of Claudette Colbert.

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Capra’s film was a combination of many ideals, emotions and social perceptions of the American society of the thirties but it was also a combination of many new and innovative filming techniques and sound advancements. The film unfolds the story in such a attention-grabbing and remarkable way that most of today’s cinema use his style and ideals when producing and creating films. Capra used the idea of a moving camera, one that was not fixed upon a box, but on a moveable crane instead. This produced more sweeping shots, more angles for filming and fewer distance shots. It allowed for more movement of the actors as well as a more realistic and real life feeling to the movie. The film also incorporates back projection of images.

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This is were a scene is filmed previously and played in the background while the actors perform the scene in front of the projection. Back projection is used for car scenes to give the impression that the actors are driving but in reality they are in a sound stage. Capra also incorporated the use of a wipe in his film. The technique of moving left to right and fading in or out to change a scene or show elapsed time took the place of the traditional place cards in silent films and allowed for a more constant stream for the film. The film was also all talk, the new technology of a sound strip on the side of the film was used. The text cards of silent films were completely discarded. Another camera trick by Capra is to show a change in feelings within Clark Gable’s character for Claudette Colbert’s character by depicting her character in a different light.

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This happens two times within the film at key moments to the development of their relationship. Claudette Colbert is seen in a close up of softer light to emphasize Clark Gable’s character seeing her in a `different light.’ In this romantic comedy Capra not only showed new styles and techniques but also addressed social issues of the time. Through comedy he showed the outlandish nature of the rich (King arriving for his own wedding in a helicopter) and the nature of man being the controller in relationships as well as in society. The fighting and struggles between the two main characters showed the man taking care of the woman, the social norms of how men and woman should act around each other in that era. But the fighting and the banter also show a strong-minded and intelligent woman. The two strong-willed main characters balanced each other out.

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Capra’s techniques for showing the social relationship between the rich and working classes as well as a relationship between man and woman in the 1930s captured film makers and film viewers for over 70 years. Films are now compared to his style of camera movement and his style of capturing the American ideals. When movies of today make a similar statement of achieving what one wants they are referred to as Capra-esc. Capra’s imagination and style is one that changed the outlook of American films and introduced a new genre to film goers everywhere.

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The Hero As Comedian

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
24 December 2005

In his autobiography, The Name’s Above the Title, Frank Capra said that until It Happened One Night drama had four stock characters, the hero, the heroine, the comedian, and the villain.

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What Capra did and you might notice he followed that in a whole lot of his films, the characters of hero and comedian are combined. Not completely though because Claudette Colbert gets a few laughs herself, especially with that system all her own. But in doing what he did for Clark Gable’s character, Capra created a whole new type of screen comedy, the classic screwball comedy and It Happened One Night surely set the mold.

Capra’s autobiography told the story of the making of It Happened One Night which in itself could be a movie. Capra worked for Columbia Pictures which at that time was a minor studio, along the lines of Republic or Monogram. As Capra tells it he had a vision about this story that Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote and persuaded Harry Cohn to buy it.

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Capra also had a stroke of good luck. Adolph Zukor at Paramount and Louis B. Mayer at MGM were looking to punish a couple of recalcitrant stars, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. The idea was to show these two what it was like to work in a small budget studio without all the perks of Paramount and MGM. In fact the description of Gable arriving to work at Columbia that first day, drunk as a skunk, is priceless. Capra dressed him down good and said that to his credit Gable came to work afterwards and couldn’t have been more cooperative.

At some point Harry Cohn at Columbia was convinced that maybe Capra had something. He had in fact delivered for Columbia the previous year with Lady for a Day. So the publicity drums were beat.

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The rest as they say is history. It Happened One Night won the first Oscar grand slam, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It won the first Oscars Columbia Pictures ever got and lifted it right into the ranks of the major studios. And it set the standard for screwball comedy.

The film could never have gotten off the ground were it not for the chemistry of Gable and Colbert. They’re together for most of the film so if it doesn’t click between the two of them, you have people walking out in droves. Colbert had already played a wide variety of parts at Paramount, ranging from Poppaea and Cleopatra to comedies with Maurice Chevalier like The Big Pond. Gable had played a whole lot of tough guys on both sides of the law at MGM. It Happened One Night showed he had some real comic talent, a flair MGM exploited in his roles from then on in.

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Gable and Colbert did only one other film together, Boom Town for MGM. You can’t get much more different than those two films. Boom Town had a huge MGM budget, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr as well, and a lot of special effects involving the oil industry and hazards therein. It’s also a great film, but it’s not a classic like It Happened One Night.

Clean Sweep

9/10
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
8 November 2005

Consider this, “It Happened One Night” was made in 1933 which gives it the distinction 70+ years later of being the oldest film still widely viewed by mainstream audiences. And most of the runner-ups for oldest film are 1930’s screwball comedies inspired by the success of this seminal film which made a clean sweep of the 1934 Academy Awards. The genre has held up over the years because these are small human stories with themes that are still relevant.

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The main reason “It Happened One Night” worked then and still works today is the accidental pairing of Colbert and Gable, who provide an amazing chemistry under Frank Capra’s direction. Columbia Pictures was a small player in the early days of talking pictures and studio head Harry Cohn had difficulty rounding up two major stars to play the leads in this modest budget production. Colbert was not interested in doing another Capra film after a negative experience working for him six years earlier in her silent picture debut. Cohn told Capra: “That French broad likes money” and Capra finally got her on board with an offer of $50,000 (double her usual price) and a guarantee that production would only last 28 days. Gable was under contract to MGM but had been making trouble for them so as punishment Louis B. Mayer personally loaned him to Columbia for this film.

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The film had a lot else going for it; a motivated Capra, a great script that would play well with small town America, and a good ensemble of supporting talent. The story concerns a spoiled young heiress (Colbert) trying to escape the control of her father (nicely played by Walter Connelly). Dodging her father’s private detective she takes a Miami to New York bus where she meets a recently fired reporter (Gable) who agrees to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. Cozy quarters and many adventures lead them to change their initial opinions of each other (brainless brat and obnoxious bully) as an undisclosed affection develops. On the eve of their arrival in New York they try to sort out their feelings for each other.

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While the script is not really successful in convincingly illustrating the process of their falling in love (one minute they are just friends and the next they are in love), Capra is able to sell it with a simple connection process between these two characters which is at work throughout the film. As another reviewer has written: “Far from lovey-dovey, the dialogue is witty, sharp and occasionally heartless. We may know the outcome, but the road to get there is paved with arguments, anger and misunderstandings. It’s also clever, funny and a bit risqué (for 1934)” . During their three days and nights together Colbert convincingly gives us a character who matures from a spoiled rich girl to a responsible adult, motivated by a desire to improve her companion’s opinion of her. Gable shows real star presence, playing a confident, charming, and resourceful gentleman. By the end their sudden love is credible because they have demonstrated that they are both exactly what the other is looking for in a partner.

After the Oscar ceremony Capra threw a party where he downed a magnum of champagne and passed out on his front lawn clutching his Best Director Oscar.

Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.

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