IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
Director: Frank Capra
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 29, 2014
You’ve got to love what you can learn from watching Blu-ray
For example, I never knew that Frank Capra’s classic comedy It
Happened One Night was filmed in only four weeks…that’s amazing, and
also quite unheard of for a major Hollywood studio film.
Turns out the reason for it was that the movie was made during Claudette
Colbert’s vacation, for which she was compensated with double her usual salary
for a picture. Apparently, she
complained throughout the entire shoot, and once filming had wrapped, reportedly
even told her closest friends that it was the worst film she had ever made.
One can only assume that, when less than a year later the movie brought
her a Best Actress Oscar, as well as became the first picture to sweep the top
five categories (picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay), she
re-evaluated her position.
One thing seems apparent…the criticality of the shooting
schedule seems to have infused It Happened
One Night with an energy level not often seen in early talkies.
There is a wonderful sense of urgency about the picture above and beyond
the funny story or the terrific performances by Gable and Colbert.
It brought out the best in the film’s comic potential.
The story wastes little time in getting started:
though not delving too deeply into backgrounds, we are introduced to
Ellie (Colbert), the daughter of one of Wall Street’s most prolific and
wealthy investors, defies her father by secretly marrying a playboy aviator.
When her father intends to annul the marriage and stop them being
together, she dives off the yacht in Miami, and prepares to make her way north
to New York, and her new husband, by hook or by crook.
It won’t be easy, considering that dear old dad has everybody in the
country looking for her.
We also meet Peter Warne (Gable), a newspaper man who has
just lost his job and is on his way
back to New York to do…well, whatever he can do. When he finds himself thrown together with the spoiled and
stubborn Ellie, the equally stubborn Peter soon concocts a plan:
he will help her reach her destination and escape her father’s
detectives, provided she give him the exclusive story on her escape.
This scenario sets up a world of wonderfully comedic
moments, as the two travelers, with hardly a dime to their names, are forced to
scrounge and work together, and even share rooms with a blanket dividing them
(the “walls of Jericho”, Peter calls them).
And as you might expect, they eventually start to warm to one another,
and even fall in love, which is a rather unfortunate development, considering
Ellie is technically already married.
Does it all work out in the end? I wouldn’t dream of denying you the pleasure of taking the
journey with Ellie and Peter and finding out for yourself.
Although if you’ve noticed the name Frank Capra above the title,
you’ll probably figure out the answer ahead of time.
This movie was largely panned by critics when it first hit
the screen, but the audience responded it to it heartily, making it a huge
success and forcing those who dismissed it to take another look and realize just
what a gem it really was. It also
provided a very specific formula for romantic comedies that continues to be
followed to this day. Boy meets
girl, they hate each other, they are forced upon each other, they fall in love.
How many times have you seen it? But
rarely are the results as charming and satisfying as they are in this picture.
Here is the only complaint I have about this movie:
when the characters reach their destination together, it’s time to
resolve the story and wrap up the movie. But
instead, it lingers on for an addition 15-20 minutes, taking its time getting to
where its going. In other pictures,
this might not have been a distraction, but given how this movie created and
maintained a good pace right from the beginning, the denouement seemed a bit
lackadaisical. But that’s only a
small point when compared to the overall joy of the movie’s experience.
Considering the film’s age, this is a remarkable high definition transfer from Criterion. For the most part, the black and white picture is excellent, with sharp images, good detail, and a wide range of grayscale. There are a few inconsistencies worth noting though, as certain stretched of film seem a bit more ravaged by time than others, with more marks, spots, and scratches. A few darker scenes exhibit some minor grain and flicker. Still, suffice to say, I doubt that a 65 plus year old movie will ever look better than this, and it’s a given that no previous release of this film looked as good.
The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is also very clear, with very
little in the way of distracting noises or hiss. Dialogue is well
rendered, and being that it's a character oriented film, there's naturally not
very much in the way of dynamic range or punch. Again, given the film's
age, I think fans will be pleased with Criterion's work here.
Included on this disc is a 1999 interview with Frank Capra Jr., "Frank Capra's American Dream", and a full length documentary about the director's life and career. Capra's first film is included, the 1921 silent short "Fultah Fisher's Boarding House", plus the American Film Institute's tribute to him from 1982. Rounding out is a conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate on the film, and the original trailer.
It Happened One Night is a light, breezy romantic comedy powered by appealing stars, a funny story, and an energy level that makes the film more memorable than others of the same time period. It simply enchants from beginning to end. Oh, yes, and you’ll also learn the proper way to hail a car, courtesy of Ms. Colbert.