While visiting a friend, we decided to have a stay-at-home movie night. My friend proposed the 1934 film, “It Happened One Night,” starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.
The plot is fairly simple. A spoiled socialite (Colbert) wants to marry a wealthy New York aviator. Her father disapproves. She runs away (first by swimming away from her father’s yacht, then by purchasing a ticket for the bus to New York). With few available seats on the bus, she is forced to sit in close quarters with Clark Gable’s character, Peter Warne, an unemployed, street-hardened reporter who’s looking for a good story to sell.
At one of the bus rest stops, a robber steals her suitcase and her cash. Warne recognizes her from a newspaper story about her running away and makes a deal with her to help her reach New York in exchange for an exclusive on her story. Since the movie is a “screwball comedy,” their trip back to New York includes hitchhiking, another robbery, sleeping on hay in a farm field, and on and on. She falls for Peter and he for her (‘though he doesn’t let on). In the end, as her father is walking her down the aisle to marry the aviator, her father convinces her that Warner really loves her; she bolts from the wedding into a waiting car and…. runs away again. The movie ends with Colbert and Gable reunited.
When the movie ended, my friend asked, “What did you think of the film?”
I responded that I had enjoyed the movie and recounted some of the snappy banter and plot twists that stood out. We compared notes for a few minutes and, popcorn exhausted, called it a night.
About a week later, I was still thinking about the film, so I poked around online for a bit.
Released in 1934, “It Happened One Night” was the first film to be honored with all five major Oscars®: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. [Only two other films have won all five: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Silence of the Lambs”.] So, even ‘though it’s 84 years old, it’s still a pretty big deal. Who knew?
In addition, I learned, director Frank Capra combined many new and innovative film techniques including a mobile camera on a crane (rather than a camera on a fixed box), enabling more sweeping shots, angles for filming, and close-range shots); back projection of images; the new technology of a sound strip on the side of the film (eliminating the need for the text cards used in silent films); wipes and fade outs to change scenes or show elapsed time; and changes in lighting to show changes in characters’ feelings. Again, who knew?
As I’d watched the film, I’d recognized and reacted to some of the techniques without any understanding of their significance – that they were new or innovative. I’d enjoyed the images and dialog without, in many cases, grasping Capra’s underlying purpose or meaning.
A few minutes of preparation would have made a big difference.
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