Retro Review: It Happened One Night

By: Emily Kellas

Rating: 9.95 out of 10

Clark Gable pulls you into his arms, swings you down low, all the while staring into your eyes, and his lips zeroing in on yours and then…you realize that its not you its Claudette Colbert. It Happened One Night is what many film scholars, and this reviewer, deem to be the very first romantic comedy, and perhaps the best one ever made. Directed by Frank Capra the classic film starring the original hunky heartthrob, Clark Gable, was at its inception was under very low expectations.Columbia, one of the minor film studios of the time, borrowed Gable and made the film on an incredibly small budget. Little did anyone know that amongst those thousands of frames would lay aHollywood legend, and a seminal romance.

Ellie (Colbert) is a high society girl who is determined to be with her fiancé, despite her fathers protest, and runs away toNew Yorkto be with him. On the way this privileged young woman stumbles across, a story starved reporter, Peter (Gable), who, after some angst ridden flirtation discovers Ellie’s true identity. He promises Ellie that he will deliver her toNew Yorkas long as he can write a story about her and their journey for the newspaper. And with that the troubled travelling duo set out on an adventure that they will never forget, towards the big apple.

I’m convinced this film can be loved by anyone, of any age. The story is so modern in that it is the mold to which all recent romantic comedies are made. But aside from its ground breaking content, It Happened One Night is a beautifully shot, and acted film. Though it’s all shot on a studio back lot one would never know. The outdoor scenes are beautifully composed, even down to the famous hitchhiking scene, while still including markers of the films era, and age in the department of special effects. Gable and Colbert make a truly believable couple, a pair whose fun comes from the quick exchange of snide and sarcastic comments at the others expense.  Though Gable plays his usual debonair, quick witted, playboy the real surprise is Colbert’s character as she struggles between her unknowing naïveté and her deep desire for some personal freedom and a low key lifestyle. She is both fiery and fragile, two aspects to a women’s personality that remain a balancing act, one which Colbert performs brilliantly.

For a film that came out of the gate with such low expectations, It Happened One Night is, and remains, one of the biggest surprise successes in film history. Not only that, but it simultaneously tore down the walls of Jericho creating an entirely new genre with the romantic comedy. Groundbreaking aside, It Happened One Night is fantastically fun from beginning to end, and simply never ages. And if it has taught me anything (aside from easing my growing critical opinion on romance) it is that if my car breaks down on the side of a road, and I need to hitch a ride home all I have to do is flash a little leg, and I’m homeward bound.

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