#84. It Happened One Night (1934)

I have a colleague whose favorite movie is It Happened One Night and I haven’t asked him why it’s his favorite but I also don’t really feel that it’s necessary. The movie’s good, its charms are obvious, but I guess it’s just a matter of whether it strums your personal chords or not. It doesn’t quite do it for me, but I still think it’s a solid picture and I had a good time watching it.

Seems like everybody else did, too. It’s the only movie to have won the five major Oscars: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Direction and Actor and Actress. That’s good. It’s a pleasant movie. I totally understand why it won.

But, like with Zero for Conduct, I’m gonna admit that I just don’t have much to say about it. Clearly I do have some kind of susceptibility to these kinds of movies, haven’t become totally immune to the formula, because the period in the third act where we’re led to believe that Gable and Claudette Colbert aren’t gonna get together, that she’s gonna go ahead and marry whatshisface, I actually thought we’d get a tragic ending. The two lovers separated for good. I guess I anticipated this because 1) I knew it won best picture, which I guess lends it an air of dramatic credibility (not that happy endings aren’t dramatically credible) and 2) because the Depression’s going on and people may have felt some kinda vindication to walk out of the theater saying, “See, just like I’ve been saying: everything’s awful and nobody wins.” But no, they do come together in the end – except it’s not really gratifying because we don’t even get a metaphor about the sex. We’re just told that they’ve returned to the cabin where they once stayed the night and then we’re shown the exterior. No bedsprings, no moans. Just a quaint little shot of a quiet little cabin.

it happened one night pic
The movie’s most famous scene has Claudette Colbert attracting a ride by baring her leg after Gable exhausts all of his hitchhiking tactics.

Clark Gable is charming throughout, even in his belligerent tough-guy schtick at the end where he’s just trying to collect his money and live a peaceful solitary post-Claudette life; Colbert’s endearing too despite her whiny entitlement in the first act. But ahdunno, this shit just takes me for such a ride with the ups and the downs, they hate each other then they love each other, their fate is guaranteed and now it’s being questioned. This is kinda how old romantic comedies just naturally hit me: spells of charm separated by flurries of annoyance. Obviously it’s to director Frank Capra’s credit that he keeps things interesting, forbidding the audience a sure footing, but for some reason I’m way less appreciative of that quality in romantic comedies than I am in, say, a thriller, a mystery, an action movie. Why’s that? Maybe because romantic uncertainty is such a headache in my own life that I’m just not tolerant of seeing it depicted onscreen? Except I do, kinda. My favorite movie is Hannah and Her Sisters. So I guess I do like seeing romantic drama, but I like it dramatic. Dark. Life and death kinda shit.

it happened one night candidWith It Happened One Night we get a serious piece of filmmaking that’s good-humored, well-cast, and optimistic without rubbing it in your face. It’s loyal to the formula and elicits a smile. It’s worth watching. I just didn’t enjoy it that much.

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