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It Happened One Night, Top Romantic Comedy

Updated on November 1, 2011

Its funny, AND romantic!

It Happened One Night is one of the finest romantic comedies in Hollywood history, and its popularity has not waned. Its surprising success lifted Columbia Studios into the big league and it is considered one of the pioneering "screwball" romantic comedies of its time, setting the pattern for many years afterwards.

A near perfect blend of script, direction, and performance, it was the first movie to win all five of its nominated Academy Awards categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), Best Director (Frank Capra), and Best Adaptation (Robert Riskin), (unrivalled until 1975, forty-one years later by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) - and then again by The Silence of the Lambs (1991).) It is number eight on the American Film Institute's (AFI) Funniest Films list.

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Basic Story Line

Even today, it's remarkable how fresh and funny "It Happened One Night" seems. The theme of the film is escapism and it tells the story of the unlikely romantic pairing of a mis-matched couple, Peter (Clark Gable), a tough-talking, recently-fired journalist, and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) who is a snobbish, superior-acting heiress on the run from home and her father. The two meet while on the road and are forced, initially reluctantly, to collaborate.

He's the salt of the earth, she's a rich kid, and each exploits the other - for him, she means a big newspaper story, for her, he's a way to help her get to New York and her forbidden fiancé. It is a modern tale with light-hearted sex appeal in which courtship and love triumph over class conflicts, social differences, and verbal disagreements.

The film is one of the first 'road movies', comprising mainly of a road trip (by bus, car, foot, and by thumb) by the apparently mis-matched couple. It contains some classic comedy scenes: the "Walls of Jericho" scene in an auto-camp bungalow whereby they can sleep in the same room although unmarried, the doughnuts-dunking lesson, the hitchhiking scene, the night-time scene on a haystack in a deserted barn, and the dramatic wedding scene.

The touch of Frank Capra can be seen everywhere; he was a master at using the familiar - eating, verbal slang, snoring, washing, dressing - to produce cinematic magic.

Cast List

Clark Gable - Peter Warne 

Clark Gable became one of the first Hollywood legends, known as the King of Hollywood. He was born in 1901. At 16 he quit high school, went to work in a tire factory and decided to become an actor after a visit to the theatre. He toured in stock companies, worked oil fields and sold ties. In 1924 he reached Hollywood with the help of theatre manager Josephine Dillon, who coached and later married him (she was 17 years his senior). He was prompted to take arguably his most famous role of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind by Carole Lombard whom he married in 1939, but in 1942, having completed filming a movie, Lombard was killed in a plane crash. A grief-stricken Gable joined the US Army Air Force and was off the screen for three years, flying combat missions in Europe.

Claudette Colbert -  Ellie Andrews 

Claudette Colbert was born Lily Claudette Chauchoin in 1903 in Paris, France. Her banker father moved the family to New York, USA when she was three. She made her Broadway debut in 1923 and changed her name the same year. Her first big success came in 1932 in The Sign Of The Cross.

She showed her fine comic timing in many films and by 1938 was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. She received a Life Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 1989 and announced her formal retirement in 1992. During her later years Colbert divided her time between New York and Barbados. She passed away in Barbados in 1996 after a series of strokes. She was married twice and had no children.

Walter Connolly - Alexander Andrews

Roscoe Karns - Oscar Shapeley, an annoying bus passenger

Jameson Thomas - "King" Westley

Alan Hale - Danker Arthur

Hoyt Zeke - Blanche Friderici, Zeke's wife

Charles C. Wilson - Joe Gordon

A Romantic Masterpiece

The humour is constant. The couple find themselves in increasingly ironic situations as they, initially reluctantly, break the conventions of their time. The film is pure Depression-era escapism, showing audiences that couples can fall for each other over dunking donuts and that love will always win out over class difference and financial inequality.

Hollywood has come out with many romantic comedies, some excellent, but It Happened One Night is still the standard other fims strive to reach. For once a classic film's reputation is richly deserved.

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    • gunsock profile image

      gunsock 8 years ago from South Coast of England

      Yes William, its a great movie with great scenes. I share your views on the modern Oscars - I'm just not interested. Most modern films just seem shallow, like longer versions of pop videos.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I remember this movie well, gunsock, especially the hitchhiking scene. They don't make movies like this anymore -- that's why I've sworn off the movies. I haven't watched the Oscars in years because I haven't seen any of the modern, psychedelic, quick scene-changing movies obviously designed for pre-teen action seekers. I'd rather watch the great movies of the '30s and '40s that I have on videotape. Good work.