Rating: 3½ stars (out of 4)
It Happened One Night (1934): Dir. Frank Capra. Written by: Robert Riskin. Based upon the short story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, and Jameson Thomas. Unrated. Running time: 105 minutes.
Many a lesser film has borrowed from this one, the granddaddy of all sound romantic comedies. Few have ever equaled it. An odd-couple story bringing together Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the film had an uneasy production which registers only slightly in the charming final product.
Spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Colbert) has run away from her father’s yacht, toward the waiting arms of gold-digger and all-around sleazeball King Westley. On the way, she runs into a fast-talking roguish reporter Peter Warne (Gable) on the night bus. In what is a fitting start to their relationship, Warne blackmails her into a deal she can’t refuse: he’ll get an exclusive story for his newspaper, or else he’ll turn her over to daddy.
Petty bickering and arguing ensues, but it endears rather than repulses. The film benefits from a strong script which exposes the vulnerabilities of its characters. While boasting some witty repartee, it doesn’t come off as gimmick—we see how these characters rely on hot-shot rhetoric as a crutch for their own insecurities.
Gable and Colbert are more than up to the task of their characters, though occasionally their deliveries sacrifice nuance for speed—perhaps a result of the cast’s feelings toward the script. At the same time, the animosity on-set may have contributed to the wonderful ways in which the couple grates on one another. Walter Connolly also makes his mark as Ellie’s father, in a part that starts as an overbearing father and transforms into something much more admirable (and dare I say badass?).
While the conclusion will surprise no one, the film cares more about relationship development than where it ends up (spoiler—it’s actually pretty kinky!). I’ll be candid—if more romantic comedies were like Night, I’d feel more inclined to watch them.
Next film: Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935