When Claudette Colbert finished filming Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, she apparently told friends, “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world!” Still, even given her hostility and disdain for the film, it has prevailed as an endearing classic and an archetype for the screwball comedy genre.
I first saw the film sometime when I was in my teens. I had, of course, heard of the film but had never gotten around to actually watching it. It was not much of a shocker that I loved it, considering it had all my favorite elements: witty dialogue, leads who have great chemistry, and the whole reporter-getting-close-to-a-girl-for-a-story-but-then-not-being-able- to-write-the-story-because-he-falls-in-love-with-her cliche.
Okay, so we’ve covered that Capra’s amazing. Made in 1934, this film is truly one of his best. And even though according to Capra, the making of this film would have made a great screwball comedy in itself, it was not an easy film to make. Capra had to deal with two spoiled stars (Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert) who did not want to make the film. Nonetheless, it was the first film to sweep the Oscars, winning in all five major categories.
And if you’ve never heard of Claudette Colbert then I must tell you, no, she is unfortunately not related to Late night talk show host, Stephen Colbert. However, she’s just as awesome. She dominated the industry as a leading lady for two decades.
In It Happened One Night, Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a rich heiress who has run away from her father because he wants her to divorce her newlywed husband, King Westley. Clark Cable plays Peter is a down and out reporter who happens to meet Colbert on a bus. He figures out who she is and decides to help her and get a scoop that will catapult him to success. Basically, it’s the same premise as Roman Holiday, but you have to remember that film was made many years later. The script was written by Robert Riskin, adapted from a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams and it sizzles, both in dialogue and its risque situations (for the time).
This film has some of the greatest one-liners and famous scenes, but really, the reason is stands the test of time, is the fabulous chemistry between Colbert and Gable. They set a high bar for all the romantic comedy couples that came after them.
Criterion Edition trailer below.