It Happened One Night (1934)

<strong class="MovieTitle">It Happened One Night</strong> (1934)

(On Cable TV, February 2018) There’s nothing new under the sun and that’s even truer when it comes to Hollywood movies, but it’s still a shock to see in It Happened One Night a template for the entire subgenre of romantic comedies as they’ve been made for the past eight decades. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star as (respectively) a rich spoiler heiress and a suave roguish newspaperman stuck together on a bus ride from Florida to New York. Their initial animosity eventually become something else, which complicates an upcoming high-society wedding. We’ve all seen what happens because the basic structure of the film has been reused time and time again. Frank Capra’s direction is as sure-footed as anything else he’s done (and still rivals many modern directors), while the film’s pre-Code status makes it just a bit franker and just a bit more alluring than the following three decades of movies. It has aged remarkably well—Gable and Colbert have good chemistry, and the script is strong on dialogue and single moments. (Ah, that hitchhiking scene…)  I’m not so fond of the third-act shift away from the bus, but it does lead the film to its climactic finale. As I’m discovering more and more older movies, the nineteen-thirties are earning a special place in my own version of Hollywood history—a decade where the basics of cinema had been mastered to a level still recognizable as competent today, and (for a brief period before the Hays code) increasingly willing to push the envelope of what was permissible on-screen. It Happened One Night still feels fresh and fun—I can see it being a hit with wide audiences even today.

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