See ‘It Happened One Night’, and one half of you will want to give Frank Capra’s effervescent 1934 screwball road movie a big old hug. The other half will want to slap it around the chops, tell it to stand in the corner and think about what it has done. Touted as the film that set the template for the modern romantic comedy, the question we must ask is: can we find a place in our hearts to forgive it for setting the precedent for such recent abominations as ‘The Back-Up Plan’, ‘The Ugly Truth’ and ‘The Bounty Hunter’? Well, of course we can, but only because Capra’s film has more charm and zeal in a single frame than in all those films put together. It’s the story of a salty, hooch-swilling reporter (Clark Gable) who is thrown together with a spoiled society heiress (Claudette Colbert) on an overnight Greyhound bus to New York.
The film (which is being re-released to coincide with a Capra retrospective at the BFI) simply follows them as they bicker, backbite and clamour for the upper hand. Every line of dialogue is calculated bliss, the chemistry between the leads is magnificent, and the backdrop of Depression-era America allows for a prescient and amusing subplot about how well-heeled urbanites are compelled to misbehave when they have no money in their designer pockets. It’s probably more historically important than it is a masterpiece (the last 20 minutes take the missed conections and misunderstandings an inch too far), but it’s still very easy to fall in love with.
Cast and crew