It Happened One Night - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1934


Director: Frank Capra

Production: Columbia Pictures Corp.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 105 minutes. Released 23 February 1934. Filmed between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1933.


Producer: Harry Cohn; screenplay: Robert Riskin, from the story "Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams; photography: Joseph Walker; editor: Gene Havlick; sound recordist: E. E. Bernds; art director: Stephen Gooson; music director: Louis Silvers; costume designer: Robert Kalloch.

Cast: Clark Gable ( Peter Warne ); Claudette Colbert ( Ellie Andrews ); Walter Connolly ( Alexander Andrews ); Roscoe Karns ( Mr. Shapely ); Jameson Thomas ( King Westley ); Alan Hale ( Danker ); Wallis Clark ( Lovington ); Harry Bradley ( Henderson ); Arthur Hoyt ( Zeke ); Blanche Frederic ( Zeke's wife ); Ward Bond ( Bus driver ).


Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Gable), Best Actress (Colbert), Best Directing, and Best Writing—Adaptation, 1934.

Publications


Script:

Riskin, Robert, It Happened One Night , in Four-Star Scripts , edited by Lorraine Noble, New York, 1936.


Books:

Griffith, Richard, Frank Capra , London, 1951.

Essoe, Gabe, The Films of Clark Gable , New York, 1970.

Capra, Frank, The Name above the Title , New York, 1971.

Silke, James, Frank Capra: One Man—One Film , Washington, D.C., 1971.

Willis, Donald, The Films of Frank Capra , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1974.

Glatzer, Richard, and John Raeburn, editors, Frank Capra: The Man and His Films , Ann Arbor, 1975.

Poague, Leland, The Cinema of Frank Capra , New York, 1975.

Scherle, Victor, and William Turner Levy, The Films of Frank Capra , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1977.

Garceau, Jean, and Inez Cooke, Gable: A Pictorial Biography , New York, 1977.

Malard, Charles J., American Visions: The Films of Chaplin, Ford, Capra and Welles , New York, 1977.

Bohnenkamp, Dennis, and Sam Gross, Frank Capra Study Guide , Washington, D.C., 1979.

Malard, Charles, Frank Capra , Boston, 1980.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Cavell, Stanley, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981.

Fearfar, R., Clark Gable , Paris, 1981.

Quirk, Lawrence, Claudette Colbert: An Illustrated Biography , New York, 1985.

Zagarrio, Vito, Frank Capra , Florence, 1985.

Carney, Raymond, American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra , Cambridge, 1986; 1996.

Wolfe, Charles, Frank Capra: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1987.

McBride, Joseph, American Madness: The Life of Frank Capra , New York, 1989.

Lourdeaux, Lee, Italian & Irish Filmmakers in America: Ford, Capra, Coppola and Scorsese , Springfield, 1993.

Wayne, Jane Ellen, Clark Gable , New York, 1994.

Gehring, Wes D., Populism and the Capra Legacy , Westport, 1995.

Girus, Sam B., Hollywood Renaissance: The Cinema of Democracy in the Era of Ford, Capra, and Kazan , Cambridge, 1998.

Sklar, Robert, editor, Frank Capra: Authorship and the Studio System , Philadelphia, 1998.


Articles:

Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times , 23 February 1934.

Variety (New York), 27 February 1934.

Baskette, Kirtley, in Photoplay (New York), December 1934.

It Happened One Night
It Happened One Night

Interview with Frank Capra, in Motion Picture (New York), July 1935.

Agee, James, "Comedy's Greatest Era," in Life (New York), 4 September 1949.

Films and Filming (London), May-June 1958.

Clarens, Carlos, "Clark Gable," in Films in Review (New York), December 1960.

Martin, Marcel, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 27 December 1962.

Price, James, "Capra and the American Dream," in London Magazine , January 1964.

Richards, Jeffrey, "Frank Capra and the Cinema of Populism," in Cinema (London), February 1970.

Pacheco, Joseph B., Jr., "Claudette Colbert," in Films in Review (New York), May 1970.

Thompson, Howard, "Capra, 74, Looks Back at Film Career," in New York Times , 24 June 1971.

"Capra Issue" of Positif (Paris), December 1971.

Handzo, Stephen, "A Decade of Good Deeds and Wonderful Lives: Under Capracorn," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1972.

Stein, Elliott, "Capra Counts His Oscars," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 41, no. 3, 1972.

Corliss, Richard, "Capra and Riskin," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1972.

Richards, Jeffrey, "Frank Capra: The Classic Populist," in Visions of Yesterday , London, 1973.

Sklar, Robert, "The Making of Cultural Myths: Walt Disney and Frank Capra," in Movie-Made America , New York, 1975.

Manns, T., in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 4, 1976.

Poague, Leland, " As You Like It and It Happened One Night : The Generic Pattern of Comedy," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Fall 1977.

Gehring, Wes, "McCarey vs. Capra: A Guide to American Film Comedy of the '30s," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 7, no. 1, 1978.

Brown, G., in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1978.

Interview with Frank Capra, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1978.

Phelps, G.A., "The 'Populist' Films of Frank Capra," in Journal of American Studies (London), no. 3, 1979.

Self, L., and R. Self, "Adaptation as Rhetorical Process: It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Winter 1981.

Frank, Sam, "Robert Riskin," in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.

Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Autumn 1985.

Tobin, Yann, in Positif (Paris), December 1986.

Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 3, 1989.

Ching, B., and R. Barnard, "From Screwballs to Cheeseballs: Comic Narrative and Ideology in Capra and Reiner," in New Orleans Review , no. 3, 1990.

Shumway, D. R., "Screwball Comedies: Constructing Romance, Mystifying Marriage," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), no. 4, 1991.

Hicks, J., "Frank Capra," in Films in Review (New York), January-February 1993.

Sibley, Brian, "The Wonderful Mr. Capra," in Radio Times (London), vol. 294, no. 3819, 12 April 1997.

Mistichelli, Bill, "The State of the Union: Capra, Altruism, and the Sociobiologists," in Journal of Popular Film and Television , vol. 25, no. 3, Fall 1997.

Premiere (Boulder), vol. 10, May 1997.


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It Happened One Night is the film generally credited with launching the "screwball comedy" genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s. A difficult genre to define, the screwball comedy revolves around the characters' contradictory desires for individual identity and complete union in heterosexual romance. The films pit the couple's erotic moments of courtship against their verbal combats, battles of wit spiced with rapid-fire, brilliant repartee. Because of the resurgence of censorship in 1934 coupled with an American reluctance to be frank about sex, screwball comedies capitalized on the necessity to mask and to express verbally sexual tensions and conflicts. Screwball comedies usually relied upon a final reconciliation or marriage to establish the couple's unity but undercut it as a resolution to the couple's ongoing differences. It Happened One Night established these generic rules and provided a model for incorporating into a comic structure attitudes, fears, and tensions about social, sexual, and economic roles.

It Happened One Night , the story of a runaway madcap heiress who is befriended by an individualistic journalist so he can "scoop" her story, simply adapted for a Depression-era context a popular movie formula of the 1920s. Movies such as Dancing Mothers or A Woman of the World presented man-woman, husband-wife relationships in which both parties were witty, intelligent, charming, and thoroughly at odds with each other. Unlike the screwball comedies that arose later, these films extolled aristocratic life styles and proper behavior while resolving the sexual issues on superficial terms. German-emigré director Ernst Lubitsch strengthened the structural integrity of the formula and created the prototype for the screwball comedy in Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living . Impressed and influenced by Lubitsch's films, Frank Capra borrowed the comic romantic structure that Lubitsch had evolved in order to deal with middle-class sexual and social proprieties. But Capra used the formula as a vehicle for the resolution of all economic and social differences in one vast American middle class united by the virtues of caring and sharing.

Capra's simple Depression-era philosophy, often labelled "Capracorn," is conveyed in It Happened One Night as a modern folk tale reversal of Cinderella. Rich girl Ellie Andrews flees her father so she can marry the worthless playboy of her dreams. Penniless and thrown on her own, she runs into the out-of-work ace reporter Peter Warne. In exchange for her "story," Warne helps her return to the playboy. Traveling by bus, foot, and auto across the backroads of 1930s America, they discover a mutual independence of spirit, feistiness, and resiliance. Warne gets the story, Andrews gets her playboy, but both discover that what they had really been seeking they had found in each other. The rich girl ultimately gets the poor boy proving that even the wealthy, if given a chance, will subscribe to the working class values that were deemed a prescription for fighting the Depression.

One of the most successful films of its time, It Happened One Night is in its making and reception a "rags-to-riches" story. When Capra first proposed the film based on a story serialized in Cosmopolitan , Columbia Pictures executives disliked the idea and thought that the fad had passed for bus movies. At least five Hollywood stars turned down the leading roles. Colbert initially hated the picture, and Gable only made the movie because angry MGM executive Louis B. Mayer had loaned him to Columbia as a punishment. When the finished film finally opened, poor reviews and indifferent moviegoers led to the movie's closing after only one week. The film resurfaced, however, and went on to win the top five Academy Awards. The film made stars of Colbert, Gable, and Capra, and Gable's bare-chested appearance in one scene has been said to be responsible for a 50 percent drop in undershirt sales within the year. Critics have since tried to explain the secret of the film's enduring popularity. They have generally credited Capra with inventing a message that audiences wanted to hear. The nutty romance, a down-to-earth courtship that maintains a spirit of crazy adventure in spite of adversities, showed audiences then as well as today, as critic Andrew Sarris said, "the private fun a man and a woman could have in a private world of their own making."

—Lauren Rabinovitz



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