Monday, February 27, 2017

Steve's Top Ten Films: It Happened One Night

In light of the debacle that was last night's Oscars ceremony, it might be appropriate to take a look at one of the classic Best Picture winners, one that unmistakably swept the top five categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.  Of course, the same could be said for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but It Happened One Night has the distinction of being the first film to be so honored.  And, it accomplished the feat despite being a movie that no one, not even the stars, believed in except for the director, Frank Capra.

Made in the heyday of the Hollywood contract players, Clark Gable was loaned out to do the picture as a business move by his home studio; Gable was a reluctant participant as a result.  Claudette Colbert had to be coaxed into doing it with an increased salary and a promise to have her filming completed in one month.  Reportedly, she was a prima donna on set and would throw tantrums almost daily.

Despite the trials and tribulations of the production, the end result is one of the most smartly-written romantic comedies ever put to film.  And, being made before the enforcement of the MPAA production code, the film has a sense of daring even by some of today's standards.

There are a number of iconic scenes in the movie: Clark Gable undressing in front of Claudette Colbert, Colbert stopping a passing car by showing her leg.  But, my favorite scene is when the two of them seemingly improvise an argument to avoid capture by the police.  They pretend to be a married couple who are instigated into an old argument by the presence of the police officers.  Although the actual scene was scripted, the direction and performances make the exchange seem completely ad libbed, and it is a moment of real connection between the characters.  From then on, everything the characters say and do is seen within the context of them falling in love.

Unfortunately for modern romantic comedies, I judge them based on how they measure up to the film I believe set the standard for the genre.  Very few are able to match the wit and charm of It Happened One Night.

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