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The film that made me fall in love with film: It Happened One Night
"Great, a black and white snoozefest." I thought to myself as I entered the classroom theater. My film history instructor rattled off a couple facts about the movie we were about to watch. Something something Clark Gable. Woo-hoo, whatever. Let's get this over with so I can write about it and get my C+.
Oh man, how unprepared I was for the epiphany I had that day. As I sat through the next 105 minutes what I witnessed was a literal example of a timeless film. I was astonished as this smartly written comedy about a runaway heiress and her unlikely traveling companion managed to captivate me, suspend my disbelief, and genuinely made me laugh. When the show was over and the credits rolled, I realize I had just watched a film that relied entirely upon its characters driving the story, and it was executed in incredible fashion. doesn't showcase over the top special effects, or oversexualized characters that lack in personality, or high flying choreographed action scenes, or even overly complex camera movements. But even today, 80 years after its original release, it still holds up as an infinitely rewatchable piece of fantastic cinema. It Happened One Night
This was the true art of filmmaking in action. The story, the acting, and the production values of the film were just that strong on their own that they would stand the test of time for decades, maybe even centuries to come. At that instant I fell in love with filmmaking, I wanted to be a part of a team that put together movies just like the one I had just seen. Maybe even put an end to the era of the superhero summer blockbuster and bring back character driven cinema.
Perhaps a bit idealistic of me. Different time, different cinema culture, right?
But even if my ideals were a little exaggerated at the time, my love for this film most certainly was not. I guarantee that you'll love it too.
It Happened One Night is the story of Ellie, a free-spirited billionaire heiress (Claudette Colbert) that finds herself whisked away to Florida on her father's yacht as he works to annul her recent secret marriage to a sleazeball playboy. She flees by literally diving headfirst into her escape, and sojourns to get back to her lover in New York.
The journey is complicated when a thief steals Ellie's purse, containing all of her cash. She's left to either fend for herself (likely having to accept her father's help) or accept the help of down on his luck reporter Peter Warne (played by none other than Clark Gable himself) to get her to New York. Ellie needs his assistance, and Peter needs Ellie's story.
The result of this setup is probably the progenitor of both the romantic comedy and screwball comedy sub-genres. Peter Warne plays the combined role of the straight man and the comedian as he leads Ellie from one misadventure to the next as the duo bumble their way northward.
Midway through their travels Peter realizes that Ellie is far from a damsel in distress, and the two form a symbiosis in their journey that eventually finds them reluctantly in love.
The character dynamic in It Happened One Night is incredible, and precisely why the film stands out as a timeless classic. Both Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable masterfully portray their characters, and their onscreen chemistry is undeniable. It makes one wonder how many of the quips they exchange throughout the film were ad-libbed!
It Happened One Night (1934) - Theatrical Trailer
What's your favorite Clark Gable film?
More classic films starring Claudette Colbert