Next up in my series of posts about classic romantic movies is It Happened One Night.
For those of you who’ve only seen Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, you’re in for a treat here. He brings a wisecracking yet sexy masculine sensibility to his character, a rascally out-of-work reporter out for a scoop. On a bus trip, he stumbles across the biggest story of his career: Ellie Andrews, played by Claudette Colbert. Ellie is a spoiled heiress who defies her heavyhanded but well-meaning father to elope with a fortune-hunter. Her father retrieves her before the marriage can be consummated, but she flees escapes again and plans to travel cross-country to meet up with her husband. Her father offers a reward for her return and launches a search. Her bid to reunite with her husband is the lead story on every newspaper in the country.
Ellie isn’t used to taking care of herself, and soon finds herself broke and hungry on a bus. When Gable recognizes her, he offers her a deal: If she offers him an exclusive on her story, he’ll help her evade her father’s men and reunite with her husband. What ensues is the ultimate romantic road trip movie, a genre I adore. They travel across country on the cheap, falling in love, of course, along the way.
Can they overcome her father’s interference, their differing lifestyles, and the inconvenient fact that she’s already married? Of course they can! They have a lot of fun along the way, too. The still above is from the movie’s most famous sequence. Gable’s character enjoys lording his life experience over Ellie, and often mocks her naivety. But the tables are turned on him when he gives her a lecture on how to hitchhike, only to have car after car race by, refusing to stop for him. When Colbert shows a little leg, however, the very next car comes to a screeching halt. You can see the whole scene here.
Watching the wonderful by-play between the leads, it’s hard to believe that the stars disliked the script and feuded with the director, Frank Capra. None of that shows up on the screen, however. This is a truly sparkling gem of a romantic comedy, filmed just before the Hollywood production code cracked down on sexual innuendo and subject matter. As always, if you want to see the whole thing for yourself, it’s available on Netflix.
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