Play It Again – It Happened One Night

Play It Again – It Happened One Night. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

“They just don’t make films like they used to.” It’s easy to say this when faced with a weekend box office consisting of another comic book reboot and a lazy comedy sequel, but it’s never truer than when spoken about Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

In this 1934 romantic comedy, Claudette Colbert plays spoilt heiress Ellen Andrews who marries gold-digger “King” Westley against her father’s wishes. Before they can consummate the marriage, her father whisks her off to his private boat, but she escapes and heads to New York to reunite with her husband. On her way she meets Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a recently fired newspaper reporter who agrees to help her on her journey in exchange for an exclusive story. Of course, during the voyage the pair face challenges and adventures that ultimately bring them closer. It’s a romcom after all!

Winner of five Oscars – unprecedented at the time – this classic took home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. This winning streak would not be matched until One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest achieved the same in 1975. The film is the blueprint that every modern romcom should aim towards, with witty dialogue, a strong female role, great chemistry, continuous laughs and, of course, a central couple the audience wants to root for. Most importantly, it stands the test of time and It Happened One Night remains as loved and relevant today as it was 77 years ago.

As is usually the case with great films, there are ample stories about troubled production or difficult stars, and although Gable is widely known to have been difficult to work with, a good dose of on set practical jokes put him and Colbert at ease. They were both initially dissatisfied with the script – which is hard to believe now – and were not the first choices to play Ellie and Peter. Despite the initial production hurdles, the film would not have been such a lasting hit had they not filled these roles. It’s a classic in every sense of the word.

Discuss: It Happened One Night!

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