Presenting the first screwball comedy ever made! Frank Capra (The Bitter Tea of General Yen)’s film is an example of actors who sign up for a film for business purposes and not because they feel proud of it or because they think it will do well. It Happened One Night is when a socialite meets a reporter while running away from her pampered life. Although they’re both repulsed by each other, they slowly start to fall in love.
Screwball comedies are when members of the opposite sex that couldn’t be more different from each other go head to head with each other as they are put in a ridiculous and impossible situation with each other. While at first they can’t stand the sight of each other, all goes well with them in the end to prove opposites do attract. That’s basically what happens in this film where Clark Cable‘s character Peter takes advantage of Claudette Colbert‘s character Ellie in how she’s a socialite on the run and can’t risk getting caught. He’ll help her go to her newly eloped spouse as long as she can be his story for his newspaper.
It Happened One Night is a great film to show those that don’t understand what it was like to live in the days of The Great Depression where money was scarce and you had to watch your dimes and pennies. We see that in the scene where a little boy’s mother collapses after not eating and having to move to a new area for a new job. Or how Peter and Ellie resort to desperate methods of travel such as grand theft auto and hitchhiking. Speaking of hitchhiking, the most memorable scene in the film would be when Peter is attempting to show Ellie the right way to hitchhike and massively fails. So then Ellie proves that “the limb is mightier than the thumb!” This scene was a real girl power moment because throughout the film, Peter keeps acting like he’s better than her at everything including dunking donuts (I know, who would have thought that there’s a certain way to dunk a donut?) but this moment shows that women got skills of their own. And to think they were about to hire a leg double for Colbert!
Other than Claudette Colbert showing off her bare leg, another thing that makes this film Pre-Code is the “Walls of Jericho”– the barrier between Peter and Ellie as they…get ready for bed. Colbert suggested the barrier because she didn’t want Clark Gable to see her undress. So imagine what it means when the “Walls of Jericho” come down! Hmm? A little sexual innuendo perhaps?
So like I mentioned before, Claudette Colbert hated being a part of this film. She only agreed to it for double the salary and for it to be filmed in four weeks or less. Gable wasn’t excited to be part of this experience either as he was always in a bad mood on set and would mumble “let’s get it over with!” Rumor has it that MGM made him do this movie as punishment for his affair with Joan Crawford! The script was rejected many times. Can you think of any reasons why this movie was hated by those who were part of it? Because I can’t. I thought the script was very funny and quirky. So maybe it’s considered formulaic today but hey, it’s the first screwball. I liked the situations these two characters would get into as well as their chemistry. I love the story of how Claudette Colbert really didn’t believe in this film that she assumed she would lose Best Actress to Betty Davis when in reality, Colbert came out as the winner-in a travel suit! This film is one of the first to win the Oscars in every category. So obviously, this film did something right. Love romantic comedies? Watch one of the earliest ones here.
Take a look below at Frank Capra’s classic and comment what you think: