Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)

  Often cited as one of the main prototypes of the successful screwball comedy genre, It Happened One Night failed to find the same audience in me.

 Claudette Colbert plays a banker's daughter who escapes from her father's hold in a bid to make it to New York. She wants to reunite with Westley, an aviator whom her father disapproves of and with whom she eloped. She goes incognito on a bus to New York. On her bus travel, she meets a stranger played by Clark Gable who soon realizes who she is through newspaper ads offering a lump sum for her return. He decides to help both her and himself, plainly revealing to Claudette that he is a journalist who wants to report her story. Through a series of misadventures, the pair find themselves cashless and a long way from New York, with her dad's hound dogs at her tails. They also find themselves falling in love. Gable begins to question his motives behind his involvement with her, and Colbert questions her marriage to Westley.
   It's a nice enough film, but no the masterpiece that it is touted as. I found the film to be inconsistent. The film does a lot of telling and not enough showing. First, everybody tells Colbert that Westley is wrong for her. At the end of the film, Colbert's father nearly begs Gable to express his love to Colbert after she is reunited with Westley. Gable, himself, disses Westley at one point in the movie. Yet, Westley receives barely any screen time. From the little we do see, we never get a sense as to what is so bad about him. We never get to know who he really is. We don't get to see what the characters see, a crucial flaw in the film. Thus, we are to take the characters' words as to why Gable is a much better suit for Colbert than Westley. I have nothing against marriage between two people of differing social classes. However, it seems to me that Westley was more well-off and more sophisticated than Gable. Heck, Colbert jumped from a yatch into the ocean to reach Westley. Am I really supposed to believe a three-day trip with a temperamental reporter is going to change her feelings? A friend pointed out to me that she only eloped with Westley to rebel against her father; that the implications are there in the film. Well, it may very well be true, but the film fails to properly handle such implications. And don't give me any of that "but they had chemistry" BS. I certainly didn't see any sparks.
The long-suffering Westley
   Second, the ending annoyed me to no end. The last we see of Gable is of him receiving from the father a check for his expenses throughout the trip. He tells Colbert off and then storms off. The last we see of Colbert is of her running from the altar. The main characters are not seen again. The very last scene is of two innkeepers commenting about a couple that just checked in. Apparently, the couple is newly hitched. Inside the cabin of the couple, we see a sheet fall to the ground. Bow Chicka Wow Wow. Really? No reunion scene between the two leads? Ok, Capra.
   The film feels really inconsistent. Overall, it's really slow and I was eager for it to end already. Several times throughout the movie, it felt like the pace was picking up, only to die down once again. I could not relate to any of the characters. Or the plot. As I said previously, It Happened One Night is a nice enough film, but don't expect too much out of it because, for me, it didn't really happen tonight.

Ludovico Rating:

3/5. Eh, I wouldn't watch this again. Too boring for my tastes, despite some sharp dialogue here and there.


  1. This is not the best screwball comedy from this era but it does have a few moments that are still enjoyable. My DVD came with a radio play and I enjoyed that just a little bit more then
    the movie

    1. I'm glad you agree. I guess I was misled since it's often touted as such. Now I'm interested in the radio play just to see if it'll do the material more justice.