2021 Blind Spot Series: It Happened One Night

 

What I knew going in:...nothing, actually.

Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is a spoiled rich girl who defies her father and jumps off their yacht to head to New York City. With no money or means to travel, she has to team up with a former reporter, Peter Warne (Clark Gable) in exchange for her story.

Admittedly, I only picked this because it's a title I was familiar with, and a Best Picture winner. I didn't know anything about it at all. I wasn't expecting it to be the blue print for every romantic comedy every made. It was really delightful, especially since I assumed it would be more serious.

I have to laugh at most summaries of this movie calling Ellie the crazy one, and Peter easily out-crazies her by a long shot. The craziest thing Ellie does is jump off a boat and swim like a damn champ. 

Claudette Colbert was the biggest standout for me. I thought she was wonderful and in my unpopular opinion she made Clark Gable better as well.

It's nice to be surprised by a film like this, and to watch something a bit lighter than one is expecting.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "Behold the Walls of Jericho!" - Peter (Clark Gable) 

Comments

  1. It's a cute movie. It's never going to rise to the level of The Thin Man for me, but I get why people love it.

    I'd rank it about where you do--it's a solid B, maybe all the way up to an A-, but not higher than that.

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    1. I've seen 47 of the Best Picture winners and I've got this sitting at 32. I shuffle that list around often but I can't see it ever getting much higher.

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  2. I am so glad you enjoyed this film. You are right that this is the blueprint for every other romantic comedy that came out after especially ones we know more like the Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts one’s. Claudette Colbert did make Gable softer around the edges and held her own against his swagger. Did you know that, whenGable took off his shirt and revealed he was not wearing an undershirt, undershirt sales plummeted. I love the bus scenes and the hitchhiking scene.

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    1. I read that on IMDb! That's pretty funny and I'm glad I read that before I watched because it made the scene even more amusing for me.

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  3. It's been a long time since I've seen the film yet I do remember enjoying it. Especially for Claudette Colbert who was just a joy to watch and... that moment where she showed some leg to get a ride. Oh man, that must've been scandalous back then.

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    1. It probably was! She was such a joy, I'll have to look for more of her movies.

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  4. Nice blind spot! This was my pick from a few years ago when I was still participating in this series. I've only seen Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind when I saw this, so it's quite refreshing to see him in a sweet, playful rom-com. Claudette Colbert is so adorable!

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    1. Yeah, he sucks in Gone With The Wind (his character, not his acting) so this was refreshing lol

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  5. It is a very fun flick and a perfect example of the magic of chance, if any of several initial ideas for the picture had fallen into place it would very different indeed.

    Nobody but Capra wanted any part of it from the beginning, even his studio, Columbia was reluctant since the previous year’s MGM film “Fugitive Lovers” with a setting mostly on a bus had laid a box office egg. He persisted however and started trying to cast the leads hitting wall after wall with at least eight name actresses rejecting the part, to be fair-Myrna Loy who turned it down-said the released film was entirely different from the script offered. Claudette Colbert, who had had an unpleasant experience with Capra when he directed her first (now lost) film “For the Love of Mike”, only agreed to do it for double her usual salary and with the proviso that they finish in time for her to take her vacation one month hence.

    Gable hadn’t been terribly happy with his last few films for Metro and had not been shy about making his displeasure known. To put him in his place MGM head Louis B. Mayer lent him to Columbia for a profit (at the time considered a poverty row studio so quite the comedown from the Tiffany of studios) figuring he would come back cowed. Having no choice, he went but both he and Colbert grumbled about the script and Capra brought Robert Riskin in to rework it. Despite that neither was happy making the film on its completion, Claudette told a friend she had just finished “the worst picture in world!”

    Capra was happy with it, but the studio didn’t think much of it and dumped it out without much publicity. A bit hard to believe since it is such a breezy, humorous film. It only did average business in its first few weeks of release but then word of mouth spread, and it turned out to be a smash to the surprise of all. Gable and Colbert were already big stars when they made the film, but the success put them at the top of their respective studios, especially Gable who a few years on was declared “the King of Hollywood”.

    Once it won the “Big Five” at the Oscars Columbia’s status in the industry was elevated becoming one of the major players, though studio head Harry Cohn (a coarse, mean-spirited tyrant) remained universally despised until his dying day. In fact, at his extremely well-attended funeral, after he dropped dead from a heart attack, comedian Red Skelton quipped "It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it!”

    I don’t think either Ellie or Peter are crazy characters. Ellie’s initial pampered view of life might be why they call her crazy, but she has a native intelligence that shines through quickly and Peter is an angler from the get-go. A little piece of trivia, in the “Walls of Jericho” scene Gable’s appearance without his T-shirt caused the sale of them to drop 40% for years afterwards.

    Glad you liked it so.

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    1. It's weird to me that this would be a risk for a studio film. It was so light and straight forward. I'm glad it worked out for all.

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    2. Tastes in movies and genres are cyclical so I think the bus movie bombing the year before was seen as a warning sign that it was a type of movie not worth investing high quality personnel and dollars in. Though having seen Fugitive Lovers I think it was more that the film was mediocre that lead to its poor performance.

      In the 30's when it was typical for each studio to churn out at least a couple of pictures a week had Capra not stuck to his guns the script would have been downgraded to the B unit with some falling star like Helen Twelvetrees and a second stringer along the lines of Ralph Bellamy or Gene Raymond cast in the leads and shot in a week then tossed out on the bottom half of a double bill.

      I saw that you wanted to explore more of Claudette's films. I finished up her filmography last year (save one-"The Wiser Sex" which appears to be lost or tied up in major rights issues) when I finally tracked down a film she made in France (she was born in Paris and spoke fluent French) named Daughters of Destiny, so I'll offer some suggestions. The first several are dramas, but comedy was really her forte so that's what makes up the bulk of the list.

      Dramas:
      Three Came Home-She plays a woman living in Borneo who is taken captive during WWII and held in a prison camp for three years. Her follow up was supposed to be Margo Channing in All About Eve but she broke her back during filming and had to bow out clearing the way for Bette Davis.

      Since You Went Away-She's a wife and mother holding down the Homefront during the war. One of her daughters is a teenage Shirley Temple! It's good but it's lllloooonnnggg!!

      Sign of the Cross (1932)-A wild C.B. DeMille movie about the fall of Rome. She plays an evil temptress who takes a bath in asses’ milk!

      Cleopatra (1934)-She made this right after It Happened One Night and plays the Queen of the Nile.

      The rest are all comedies (she made many, many)

      Tovarich (1937)

      Midnight (1939)

      The Palm Beach Story (1942)-A wacky Preston Sturges film.

      Bride for Sale (1949)

      Bluebeard's 8th Wife (1938)

      No Time for Love (1943)-She made seven films with Fred MacMurray-comedies except for the absolutely terrible Maid of Salem-and all are worth seeing but I liked this one best. They had a great chemistry.

      Let's Make It Legal (1951)-A minor film but fun, nice since its focus is on a mature couple. One of the main supporting characters is played by Marilyn Monroe on her way up.

      Hope that helps!

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    3. Thank you! I've seen parts of Since You Went Away for Shirley, but the rest are all new.

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    4. I meant to include this little factoid about Claudette but forgot.

      As you watch more of her films you might notice that she was ALWAYS shot from the left side, except in her early films when she couldn't exert control. She was told in an early photo session that that was her best angle, took it to heart to the point that she would demand that entire sets be rebuilt if necessary. Her right profile was jokingly referred to as "the other side of the moon". When questioned about it, or attempts to have her alter her hairstyle (adopted to cover a low forehead) or penchant for Peter Pan collars (to elongate a short neck) she would reply "I've been in the "Claudette Colbert" business a long time and I know what works for her!"

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    5. Oh my gosh, that sounds dreadful for everyone working for her!

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    6. It probably was the source of some contention at first but once she became a top star and remained one for the rest of her career, they were established facts that the crews took into consideration when designing both the sets and her wardrobes. She didn’t have a reputation of being difficult to work with-just firm, assured and completely professional but friendly and approachable.

      She was not alone in having specific expectations on lighting and such. In Golden Age Hollywood a lot of what they were selling was glamour and most of the leading actresses were sensitive to how they were presented. Many of them had it in their contracts that they would only work with specific cameramen.

      Some by necessity-Carole Lombard’s cheek had been badly slashed in a car accident when she was starting out and while plastic surgery was able to diminish it considerably (plus she had refused Novocain when it was stitched up to minimize scarring…OUCH!), she had a permanent light but visible scar that she learned how to mask quite effectively by studying lighting techniques.

      At the beginning of her career Norma Shearer was extremely cross-eyed, she had corrective surgery which minimized but didn’t fully fix the problem, so she had to be carefully framed. She educated herself to know if the camera was always in the right place.

      Others as a means of survival and individuality-Marlene Dietrich was so attuned to how she appeared on screen that she could tell by the amount of heat she felt on her face if she was properly lit and thereby presenting the look she wanted to project!

      There are plenty of others, but I think those three show that Claudette was not alone in her awareness of the intricacies of appearing on screen.

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    7. I know she definitely wasn't alone, but reading about Hollywood egos has always amused me. I'm surprised no one has lost it on Daniel Day Lewis for constantly staying in character between takes.

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  6. I've watched a lot of Gable's films. I like him as an actor but generally speaking I think often times his female co-stars did make him look better :)

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