It Happened One Night [DVD]
Director : Frank Capra
Screenplay : Robert Riskin (based on the story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1934
Stars : Clark Gable (Peter Warne), Claudette Colbert (Ellie Andrews), Walter Connolly (Alexander Andrews), Roscoe Karns (Oscar Shapeley), Jameson Thomas (King Westley), Alan Hale (Danker), Arthur Hoyt (Zeke), Blanche Friderici (Zeke’s wife), Charles C. Wilson (Joe Gordon)
While Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night was hardly the first screwball comedy (or, according to some criteria, a screwball comedy at all), it was one of the most influential for the burgeoning madcap genre that would come to dominate Hollywood comedy in the latter half of the 1930s. The story of a runaway heiress falling in with a devilish, wise-cracking reporter on a cross-country roadtrip now seems like a cliché only because so many other films have copied its structure, from the introductory meeting of instant dislike to the broken wedding in the final reel.
Like the best romantic comedies, It Happened One Night is fueled primarily by the interaction between its two leads--not only their comedic bantering, but also the slow burn that melts away their discord and reveals the full bloom of unlikely love. Have’s and have-not’s falling in love is yesterday’s news, but longtime Capra accomplice Robert Riskin’s screenplay gives it a fresh, Depression-era spin by finding a way to make Claudette Colbert’s spoiled heiress both sympathetic and in need of the lessons Clark Gable’s ornery, working-class reporter has for her. There is something inherently sexist about the need for a man to set the woman straight (could you even begin to imagine it being the other way around?), but the film is so spry and lovely in its own way that you can easily forgive its frequently boorish gender attitudes.
Much of the story takes place either on a bus or in one of several auto camps, which were a new fixture along America’s growing highways in the 1930s and had been discovered as a primary site of comedy in 1927’s Rubber Tires (which was directed by Alan Hale, who interestingly enough has a role in It Happened One Night). Capra had an innate sense of how to portray middle America; his heart is clearly with the down and out, and what makes his work here quite remarkable is that he manages to created a sense of “down and outness” that transcends class divides. Clark Gable’s Peter Warne and Claudette Colbert’s Ellie Andrews are outsiders in their own lives, even if their lives are stridently different. An ace reporter down on his luck, Peter has just been fired and is in search of some kind of professional redemption; Ellie, on the other hand, is being literally imprisoned by her millionaire father (Walter Connolly) because she wants to marry a wealthy show-off (Jameson Thomas) for the sake of breaking her own boredom. In a sense, both characters are bored with life and find a new spark in each other.
The story is structured around Ellie’s flight from Miami to New York. Peter takes the naïve heiress under his wing, first because he sees a great story in it (for those who think that celebrity scandal-mongering is something of the Us Weekly generation, think again), but later because he genuinely begins to like her. And why not? Despite her inexperience and haughty attitudes, Ellie is a genuinely likable person, largely because of Claudette Colbert’s sensitive performance. She finds Ellie’s vulnerability without making her frail, just as Gable gives Peter just the right amount of smart-aleck rudeness without turning him into a jerk. It helps that Ellie gets to show up Peter’s blue-collar pomposity from time to time, such as the scene in which she proves that “the limb is mightier than the thumb” by flagging down a car with a little leg.
At 105 minutes in length, It Happened One Night is a good 15 minutes longer than most films of its ilk, yet it never seems to drag. Capra doesn’t speed up the proceedings at all, and some scenes are downright languorous, suggesting that Capra was as interested in his characters for their emotions as for their comedic potential. Like most comedies, It Happened One Night starts to wear a little thin near the end, especially when the story has to create a misunderstanding that results in Ellie very nearly going through with her ill-advised marriage. Yet, it’s truly worth waiting for the film’s final moments, which make good on its longstanding promise to bring “the walls of Jericho” crashing down.
|It Happened One Night DVD|
|It Happened One Night is included as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection” box set, which also includes American Madness, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can't Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and the 2006 documentary Frank Capra’s American Dream. Included in the box set is a 92-page booklet containing notes about each film, photos, and page excerpts from the original shooting script for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.|
|Subtitles||English, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Korean|
|Distributor||Sony Home Entertainment|
|SRP||$59.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||December 5, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The transfer on this disc is absolutely gorgeous; you would never guess that It Happened One Night is 72 years old based on the clarity, detail, and sharpness of the image on this disc. There is barely a mark or scratch to suggest the film’s age, and the image is smooth and well detailed throughout. Parts of its seem fairly dark, especially any scene taking place at night (and there are quite a few), but this is clearly the look of the film because the daylight scenes are perfectly bright. The one-channel monaural soundtrack is clean and clear.|
|The screen-specific audio commentary by Frank Capra, Jr. is mostly lively and informative (if a bit sporadic at times), although it renders the 11-minute “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers ... It Happened One Night” featurette completely redundant. Fans of the film will likely be familiar with every story Capra spins, from Gable being loaned out to Columbia by MGM as “punishment” for his off-set behavior, to the frugality of the set designs, but it’s a great introduction for newbies to the film’s fascinating history. Also included on the disc is the entire 1939 live radio adaptation of the film by the Lux Radio Theatre, in which Gable and Colbert reprised their roles. There is also an incredibly scratchy and damaged original theatrical trailer that does little more than remind you of how good the movie itself looks on this disc.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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