The oldest Best Picture winner I have seen … so far
“It Happened One Night” is a classic love story yet its best feature is that it surprises you: it’s not chock-full of clichés (though not devoid of them either) and it has an enduring sense of humor that all generations can appreciate.
The film stars two classic screen actors in Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert playing Peter Warne and Ellie Andrews, one a recently fired journalist and the other a runaway heiress who meet on a bus to New York. For Peter, this scoop could save his career and for Ellie, well, she needs all the help she can get to make it to New York alive. The two develop an unlikely relationship exchanging humorous jabs as they bus, hitchhike and hijack their way and of course while neither will be the first to admit it, there’s no hiding their feelings for each other from the audience.
Classic films tend to rely on the prowess of their marquee actors and Gable and Colbert are terrific together. Both are humorous and play a wide range of emotions. Gable is one of those stars that has that intangible “it” factor that just makes him seem so incredibly important in every scene. There is a strong tension between them the entire film that is funny at times and romantically intriguing at others.
The writing, however, is what makes this a standout classic. The way Peter wiggles his and Ellie’s way out of tight situation, namely those that would result in Ellie being found out, is genius. Robert Riskin does some of the best witty dialog and scenes. The best parts of the film are when Peter and Ellie are alone, either in their motel room or out in the forest. The tension between them is highest and it makes the dialog that much better. This is a film that you remember the scenes. Like a play they all carry their own weight and interest. What happens next is not as important as what is happening.
“It Happened One Night” only suffers from a cliché ending. The humor shifts from wit to just laughing at the film in general because you know the inevitable will happen and anything that tries to stay in the way at that point is just–pointless. Anyone who loves classic situational and near-farcical comedy will love “It Happened One Night” and with good reason. It’s enjoyable for all generations but it’s very true to the era, definitely an escapist depression-era film because it concerns itself with the wealthy and pokes fun at them. There’s even a song though it’s incorporated in a more drama-focused way, no theatricality.