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What happened that night?
by Asa Butcher
Issue 16
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It Happened One Night
Frank Capra
Urban legend says that when men watched this film in 1934 the sales of undershirts dropped by seventy-five per cent because Clark Gable was not wearing one. Whether this is true or not does not matter in the slightest because we are here to review this classic piece of cinema and not discuss the difficulties underwear manufacturers faced in the 1930s.

One of the strange aspects of watching a film made over 70 years ago is the knowledge that virtually everybody involved in its production is dead. Once you have overcome this macabre observation you can begin to appreciate why It Happened One Night became the first film to win the Oscar "Grand Slam" - Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Screenplay - at the 7th Academy Awards in 1935.

According to the trivia surrounding this film, it was never supposed to be a hit. Clark Gable was on loan to Columbia as punishment for his raucous off-camera behaviour and Claudette Colbert only accepted because director Frank Capra promised he would double her salary and she would be done in four weeks. How many recent Best Picture winners were completed in four weeks?

The film was based upon a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams and follows Ellie Andrews (Colbert), a daughter of a rich father, who escapes from his control, and tries to reach King Wesley, her new wealthy husband. She meets Peter Warne (Gable), a recently fired reporter, on the way to New York and he blackmails her into gibing him her story. Together they evade the private investigators and an excellent cad called Oscar Shapeley (Roscoe Karns). I am sure you can imagine what happens during their journey because it is the 'it' of the title.

The reason that the film took the four top awards is because of one man: Frank Capra. This was the first of three Best Director awards that he eventually won and he is one of my top five directors. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lost Horizon, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and It Happened One Night are just a few of the classic films that Capra directed; each has its own magic and deserved place in movie history.

"The walls of Jericho" is a memorable scene from the movie and it was Capra's response to Claudette Colbert refusing to undress in front of the camera. However, it is the hitch-hiking scene that is more commonly associated with this film. After trying to impress Ellie with his tried and tested thumb techniques and then failing in practice, Ellie walks to the side of the road, hitches up her skirt to reveal her stockings and immediately stops a car: "Well, I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb."

It Happened One Night is a gentle romantic comedy that showcases the talent of Gable, Colbert and Capra, plus a number of other dead actors, back in an era when the censors forbid unmarried men and women to be shown in bed together - did you say 'those were the days'?

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LL2007-05-18 19:58:16
I love this film Asa. Thank you for the extra trival on it.

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