Wednesday, January 23, 2013
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
(February 1934, U.S.)
It's interesting to note that there are some films that can somehow capture the heart and essence of a particular time in history without necessarily diving deep into its content; in this case, the era of the Great Depression. In KING KONG (1933), it's just enough for Carl Denham to be eyeballing a group of women on a long soup line as he searches for his leading lady. In 42ND STREET (1933), we only need witness how much the chorus line girls will tolerate and struggle with in order not to be put out of their jobs and on the street. These small sequences, as examples, are sufficient enought to reflect the harsh and bitter times Americans were experiencing during the decade of the 1930s.
For the great Frank Capra romantic comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, it need not directly indicate that the Depression is up and running, but rather remind its audience with very subtle and familiar hints. It begins when spoiled and pampered socialite Ellie Andrews (played by Claudette Colbert) tries to get out from under her father's thumb, and falls in love with a roguish, wise-cracking newspaper reporter Peter Warne (played by the legendary Clark Gable), whom at the beginning, only wants her for her story. Suddenly she's on a bus from Miami to New York and must contend with the perils of travel, such as having little-to-no money and the theft of her luggage. She's now at the same level as the common folk who are merely just trying to survive hard times and eat whenever their finances will allow them. It's amusing gestures like when Peter shows her how to "properly" dunk her doughnut (commonly referred to as "sinkers" back then) in her coffee without letting it get too soggy that reminded audiences of their current times. And let's not forget the whopping two whole dollars a couple would have to pay out to get a single room for the night! But perhaps one of the finest examples of the times back then can be best described in what would eventually become a very famous (and often very imitated) sequence when Ellie uses the power of her shapely, smooth leg to secure a ride while hitchhiking. Try to understand and appreciate that such a scene as this was considered very risqué and very unladylike by audiences and the censors back in the day...
Sure, it's completely bogus now! Why, even by today's movie standards, a woman flashing her tits on the road to get a ride still wouldn't produce very much of a shock value (PG-13, at best). But in 1934, it was enough to get audiences talking, but even more important, to get them laughing during a time when Americans needed to laugh at the movies more than ever before, all for the price of about ten cents.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (it happens over SEVERAL nights, actually) may easily be called one of the first "road" films in which unlikely individuals are thrown together by circumstance and must not only learn to tolerate each others annoyances, but as cliche would demand of it, will also inevitably fall in love, too. Of course they will! That's what's supposed to happen in romantic comedies. Even when Peter is so damn infuriated with his love interest's spoiled brat attitude, it's completely obvious how much he loves her and wants to be with her (awww!).
It may be interesting to know of the film's impact with audiences with regard to one particular scene when Clark Gable undresses for bed, taking off his shirt to reveal that he's bare-chested. Urban legend claims that, as a result, there was a noticeable decline in the sale of men's undershirts after that. It's amazing just how susceptible movie audiences are to what they see on screen. On the other hand, I myself am guilty of running right out and purchsing Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses after I saw TOP GUN in 1986. Hey, sue me!
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT won the Oscar for best picture of 1934.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alexander Andrews: "Oh, er, do you mind if I ask you a question, frankly? Do you love my daughter?"
Peter Warne: "Any guy that'd fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined!"
Alexander: "Now that's an evasion!"
Peter: "She picked herself a perfect running mate - King Westley - the pill of the century! What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day, whether it's coming to her or not! If you had half the brains you're supposed to have, you'd done it yourself, long ago!"
Alexander: "Do you love her?"
Peter: "A normal human being couldn't live under the same roof with her without going nutty! She's my idea of nothing!"
Alexander: "I asked you a simple question! Do you love her?"
Peter: "YES! But don't hold that against me! I'm a little screwy myself!"