It Happened One Night

Year: 1934
Studio: Columbia
Director: Frank Capra
Writer: Robert Riskin
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable

It's been way too long for Frank Capra to have any detractors. Whatever shortcomings existed in any of his films, he's the personification of a style (along with close contemporary Billy Wilder) to such an extent that every time we consider his movies, we remember what decades of conventional wisdom have to say on top of our experience of them.

A tale of star cross'd lovers who can't stand each other at first glance, the 1930s equivalent of a brassy dame (Colbert as Ellie isn't nearly as liberated as Rosalind Russell was in His Girl Friday) and proto-Clooney Clark Gable's cheeky smile are a breeze blowing through a fairly slight plot.

She's a spoiled rich woman on the run from her industrialist father, a man who can't stand her husband-to-be and wants to keep her locked up. When she throws herself off his palatial yacht, she goes on the lam with little money or idea how she's going to get back to New York to meet her fiance.

At the same time, roguishly-charming reporter Peter (Gable) has just burned the final bridge with his boorish editor boss, and needs a big story to turn his fortunes around.

When they end up on the same bus, Peter smells his salvation in the form of the missing heiress he alone can uncover, and Ellie reluctantly but innocently accepts his offer of help.

The destiny they're hurtling towards through all the screwball bickering just goes to show how templated this kind of shtick was 70 years ago, and it's frankly no wonder we roll our collective eyes a little when we still see it now (thrown together despite mutual dislike, too dumb to know they're actually falling in love while it's obvious to everyone else).

It's not the best of either Capra's movies or the comedies of the genre, and it lags more than once with a very saggy midsection, but it's a good historical record for the styles of the time.

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