81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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It Happened One Night

August 26th, 2009 · No Comments · 1934, Adaptation, Alan Hale, Black and White, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Columbia Pictures, Comedy, Frank Capra, It Happened One Night, Robert Riskin

It Happened One Night The difference between It Happened One Night, the seventh Oscar-winning movie, and the one that preceded it, Cavalcade, is the difference between night and day (no pun intended).

While John and Lionel Barrymore may have been considered better actors in the early 1930s, when Clark Gable hits the screen it’s movie magic.

I mean, this guy has charisma, a star quality that I hadn’t seen in the previous six movies.

Consequently, It Happened One Night (1934) seems more like a real movie than any Oscar winner that came before it. For that reason, I contend It Happened One Night is where Hollywood movies started. Everything before seems like foreplay compared to this superb film.

To be fair, It Happened One Night is the perfect storm of Clark Gable (1901-1960), Claudette Colbert (1903-1996), and director Frank Capra (1897-1991), arguably most famous for directing It’s a Wonderful Life. It is also a full-blown comedy, the first comedy to win an Oscar. But the Academy loved this film as much as audiences did and awarded it with all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Capra), Best Actor (Gable), Best Actress (Colbert), and Best Screenwriter (Robert Riskin). It is the fifth Oscar-winning movie based on another work (in this case, a short story), which means this is an adaptation.

But in my mind this film belongs to Gable, who starred in no less than three Oscar-winning movies in the 1930s: It Happened One Night, Mutiny On the Bounty (1935), and Gone With the Wind (1939). I can’t even imagine how big of a star Gable was back then. Three Oscar-winning movies! And all by the age of 38! It’s no wonder his nickname was “The King of Hollywood,” according to his entry on IMDB.

Here, Gable is a mere 33 years old. But he already seems as poised, confident, and in complete control of his magnetic personality as an actor twice that age.

But enough of my Gable worship. On with the show!

Clark GABLE and Claudette COLBERT
A Frank Capra Production
Screen Play by
Based on the Short Story by
Samuel Hopkins Adams
Directed by
105 Minutes

Clark Gable, Claudette ColbertAccording to the synopsis on IMDB, “It Happened One Night begins with a rich heiress named Ellie Andrews (Colbert) sequestered by her father on his yacht, disapproving of her marriage to a famous aviator named King Westley. After an argument, she escapes the yacht and swims away. She buys a bus ticket to travel back to New York to her husband, where she meets an out of work reporter named Peter Warne (Gable). Eventually he finds out her true identity from a newspaper article about her escape. He offers to help her get to her destination in exchange for exclusive rights to her story…”

And that’s as much as I’m going to reveal.

Sixty Years of Hollywood Author John Baxter, in his 1973 book Sixty Years of Hollywood, writes: “Bus stories” were a Hollywood commonplace, and Capra received little encouragement from Harry Cohn [producer, Columbia Pictures] when he put forward Robert Riskin’s script from “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams…In what was perhaps an excessive recognition of its merit, the film won four [sic] Oscars, and remains a Hollywood classic.”

A few last comments on It Happened One Night.

The movie also stars one of my favorite character actors, Alan Hale (1892-1950), father of Alan Hale Jr. (“Skipper” on Gilligan’s Island). Hale, Sr., often starred with Errol Flynn and was a familiar face in movies during the 1930s and 1940s. He picks up the hitch-hiking couple, after a hilarious scene of Gable showing Colbert how to flag down passing motorists using precise thumb gestures. It is here that Gable’s character learns that “the leg is mightier than the thumb.” Hale is only on screen for, maybe, five minutes. But they’re a memorable five minutes.

Another great scene is when Gable picks up Colbert, throws her across his back, and wades across a stream to keep her from getting wet. As he’s wading across, the two have an argument about whether or not what he’s doing is giving her a piggy-back ride. The dialogue is terrific.

It Happened One Night is a snappy, clever, well-acted, and entertaining movie. Unlike the previous Oscar winners, this one bears up to repeated viewings.


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