I’ve always been someone who navigates more towards dramas and action films as opposed to the lighter side of cinema. There’s no way to say this mildly, but there’s just a lot of brainless tripe out there in the comedy genre – so much that I’m not about to waste my time on something that has a 70% chance to disappoint me.
Earlier this week I followed up One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Frank Capra’s 1934 romantic comedy, It Happened One Night. The film won 5 Oscars at the 1935 ceremony for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay – the grand slam, which, as my friend Josh mentioned in the comments section of last week’s post has only been accomplished by three films – It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Silence of the Lambs.
Capra’s film has been credited by many critics as the picture that began the “screwball comedy” genre. A young socialite, played by Claudette Colbert, runs away from home when her oppressive father disapproves of her fiancé. On the run, she encounters a suave journalist, played by the ever charismatic Clark Gable (he is better here than in Gone with the Wind). He offers to help her return home to her fiance in exchange for her story. Although the film is titled It Happened One Night, the narrative takes place over many nights as they set out on this journey. Of course, things go hilariously awry throughout the film.
It’s difficult not to consider the time in which this film was made and released – during a very depressed United States, just 5 years after the stock market crashed. The film was likely an escape for the viewer at the time of its release. While there are subtle hints at the depressed economy (homeless men and women on trains, carrots found in a field for breakfast), the story is light, vivacious, and hopeful. Most importantly, it’s a story in which the underdog triumphs, not unlike Capra’s later film It’s a Wonderful Life.
The film’s plot has been recycled numerous times in the 80 years following its release. Yet, I still found this to be one of the most entertaining comedies I’ve ever taken a chance on. Perhaps we’re all better off sticking with the guy who pioneered the genre.