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The film that made me fall in love with film: It Happened One Night

Updated on October 13, 2014

"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. It Happened One Night 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.

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.

Peter and Ellie on the road
Peter and Ellie on the road

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 doesn't matter if you're a teenager or you were around to see the golden era this film was released in, you will love It Happened One Night. Buy it today on DVD.

It Happened One Night (1934) - Theatrical Trailer

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More classic films starring Claudette Colbert


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    • Mark W Kuglin profile image

      Mark W Kuglin 3 years ago from Imperial Beach, California and Ensenada, Mexico

      I like most of the choices on hour poll so it was hard to choose one.

      A very well written lens. I greatly enjoyed it.

      Note! I had almost an identical experience with this film and others in film class.

      Please check out my lens: Must see classic films for future film majors

      I will have to add this one

    • Maugustine profile image

      Michael Augustine 3 years ago from Arizona

      @Sylvestermouse: Fantastic! Thank you!

    • Maugustine profile image

      Michael Augustine 3 years ago from Arizona

      @Sylvestermouse: It just goes to show you how art affects different people in different ways. What's undeniable is how classic of a film It Happened One Night is, though! Thanks for stopping by and reading, feedback like this only makes me want to watch and write about classic cinema even more!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

      Stopping back by to let you know that your review has been featured on Review This!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

      What a fabulous review! I also loved this movie and I truly appreciate your perspective. It gives me a greater appreciation of an old movie that I would have simply classified as a romantic comedy. Thank you!

    • asereht1970 profile image

      asereht1970 3 years ago

      Great review. Thanks for sharing.

    • Deannamay LM profile image

      Deannamay LM 3 years ago

      The end of an era. Great review.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      What an outstanding review of this movie, very well done. I enjoyed reading every word!! Thanks

    • Maugustine profile image

      Michael Augustine 3 years ago from Arizona

      @Maggie42: Thanks for stopping by!

    • crystalwriter profile image

      Crystal A Murray 3 years ago from Corydon, Indiana, USA

      Your review definitely makes me want to see this movie. I love character-driven movies far more than those that depend on special effects and fancy cinematography to make my time worth it. I'm adding this to my "must see" list right away, and thanks for the personal history you put behind the review. It made it that much more interesting.

    • Maggie42 profile image

      Maggie42 3 years ago

      I agree great movie and a great review. Today's movies should be more like this - perfect Thanks

    • Maugustine profile image

      Michael Augustine 3 years ago from Arizona

      @Ruthi: You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      Great eview of, yes, a timeless classic film. Call me idealistic too, as I would much prefer to see character driven cinema return.

    • Maugustine profile image

      Michael Augustine 3 years ago from Arizona

      @SusanDeppner: I highly recommend that you do! In my humble opinion, this is one of those films that anyone who loves cinema needs to see! Thanks for reading and commenting, Susan!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      It's hard for me to believe that I've never watched this movie. Must do so, soon! Loved your review!