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Thursday, December 30, 2010


It Happened One Night Spooks Me!




Guess I'm safe for assuming that no one else refers to It Happened One Night as the Dawn Of The Dead of romantic comedies, and yet for me, it's every bit as unsettling as that zombie-fest of 1979. I might not even have watched but for Netflix streaming IHON in HD this month, thus chance to look again at latest tweaks Sony/Columbia's applied to long-problematic surviving elements. The feel-good Frank Capra classic never left me feeling so, for here's Depression (that D in caps throughout) spread like black tar down roads Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert travel. Post-apocalyptic movies are all the rage now --- who knew they did one in 1934? This is our lives was maybe what patrons thought then, and could be that's what put them in seats by droves. Would It Happened One Night disquiet me less were I not so spoiled? Depressionists didn't just expect food, shelter, and overcoats the way we do now. Life was struggle and there's no assurance Claudette will finish this bus ride intact, hers a perilous trip to Oz with Gable as sole protector. Everyone else traffics at thievery, extortion, and fortune hunting. Even a kid in tears over his mother's starvation comes across as maybe running a scam. You can go cynical quick on human nature watching It Happened One Night.







Jolly Alan Hale gives the couple a lift, then steals off with their luggage, a second time that happens to Claudette's character. Gable takes after the guy, subdues him (offscreen), then reports back later of having tied the would-be rogue to a tree, to which I wonder what'll happen to immobilized Hale when the next band of road agents come along. At one point, Colbert unknowingly breaks line at a communal shower, incurring wrath of surly-at-the-least women I half expected to gang-whoop her. Transit life for all I know is more dangerous now than then, but what engaged me here was Capra's refusal to sugarcoat hardship of living minus a safety net. Busted Gable makes do with raw carrots off the ground and you figure it's not his first time. I wonder how many in 1934 who saw and loved It Happened One Night had known hunger in their own lives and were only recently endowed with means to buy a movie ticket. Something made it click to fantastic rentals, and I'd doubt that was mere Gable and Colbert Together For The First Time (as promoted in the fan magazine ad above).



































Don't know where, but I read David Selznick considered It Happened One Night the perfect blend for boxoffice, one he wished could have borne his name. Histories positioned IHON as little engine that could, up from poverty row and defeating odds to become sleeper of all time. Some of that I'd guess is true. Frank Capra would cast the film as underdog not unlike characters he developed for stories to come. You almost wonder why he didn't make a movie about the making of It Happened One Night, so entrenched were legends within short time after perfect storm of its 1934 reception. Remember the part where ...? led off conversation that inspired second, third, whatever viewings. Theatres did better with It Happened One Night on repeat runs than most product on a first, it being among few comedies to engage a truly mass following. Was Capra's just perfect timing? Variety wondered why 1948's reissue booking delivered short for a Los Angeles circuit. Well ... life, roads, and romance saw change (a lot) in those fourteen years between, and maybe folks didn't want reminding of how austere things had all too recently been.














































Documentaries about Hollywood weren't complete without excerpts of It Happened One Night. Those walls of Jericho bespoke movies as they'd been and wouldn't be again. Gable and Colbert hitch-hiking encapsulates what Classic Era stars and story-tellers did best ... proof that an industry wasn't making movies like it used to. Such ease of perfection loomed over Frank Capra as well --- why couldn't he do them so well anymore? It Happened One Night, with ducks in a row five minutes past titles, was economical like this director's silent comedies had been. Gable and Colbert vehicles to come were evidence that such quality was had once in a hundred. Part of the freshness came of their acts being not so ossified in 1934. Both major names, neither Gable nor Colbert were yet crated with fixed image that would make later work more predictable. Watch their reunion in 1940's Boom Town and note mannerism, tricks, and gesturing clearly sops to fan expectation. Is it a wonder stars got bored being stars? For It Happened One Night at least, there was fun of personas still developing. Gable doffing clothes to reveal no undershirt was image-defining he (and Metro) would trade on long after this kind of spontaneity got corporate-scrubbed off his plate.










































I'd give Frank Capra credit for inventing romantic comedies as we've known them for a past seventy-six years. Was there anything prior to 1934 you'd call a precursor? Not among pics I've seen. Prior (talking) battle-of-gender comedies play more raffish and precode. It Happened One Night got under wire of strict enforcement too, but doesn't really speak in pre-coded terms (could there have been trims made to the negative for subsequent releases?). I wonder if writers of Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston rom-coms have watched It Happened One Night. Certainly they know the blueprint, having doubtless looked at numerous other shows that imitated Capra's original. Is it safe to say that all romance comedies are six (more or less) degrees removed from It Happened One Night? My own uneasy response notwithstanding, I'd think civilians would enjoy IHON as much as any 30's sampling, possibly more for having seen its devices reused right up to present day. Frank Capra would travel with It Happened One Night till nearly an end. One early eighties revival he attended at the long-shuttered Capri Theatre in Charlotte found management presenting a 35mm print that looked like a third-generation dupe, for which Capra apologized profusely. This was not the movie I made, said the director to an audience stilled by disappointment.

19 Comments:

Blogger VP81955 said...

"It Happened One Night" remains an amazing accident. According to Wikipedia, the following actresses could have played Ellie, but didn't:

Miriam Hopkins (who rejected so many roles she was essentially George Raft on estrogen)

Myrna Loy (though she later said the script she received was not at all similar to what eventually ended up on screen)

Margaret Sullavan

Constance Bennett (who would only play the role if she could produce the film herself, which Columbia nixed)

Bette Davis (Jack Warner wouldn't loan her out...sort of "All About Eve" in reverse, without injuries)

Carole Lombard (who declined because the filming schedule conflicted with that of Paramount's "Bolero," which turned out to be a hit for her; she shortly got her pivotal film, "Twentieth Century," through Columbia)

Loretta Young

In addition, Loy would have been partnered with Robert Montgomery, who also turned it down.

Initially, Colbert rejected the part, due to disastrous work with Frank Capra on a 1927 silent, "For The Love Of Mike." She took the role only after persuading Columbia to double her salary and assuring her it would be done in four weeks so she could go on vacation.

And the story that Clark Gable was sent to Columbia as "punishment" by Louis B. Mayer is nonsense. MGM had no work lined up for Clark at the time, so the studio loaned him out (and Mayer got some money from Harry Cohn for doing so).

A lot of intriguing what-ifs, especially Davis -- had a romantic comedy been the film to put her on the map, her career might have gone in an entirely different direction.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I love this one, and have always felt the gritty surface details you mention are actually a big part of its ongoing appeal. I do think it is the grandpop of modern romantic comedies, presenting a foolproof formula for success: mix together two sexy, magnetic characters who are, never the less, kinda jerks on their own - then, without changing their basic personalities, make them become funnier, more attractive and more likable when they are in each other's company. Of course saying this is fool proof is a little like telling people to buy low and sell high. It's really, really hard to do! The only complaint I heard from my 20 something daughter and friends after a recent viewing (and it was a loud one): how come the lovers reunite at the end...OFF CAMERA!

11:34 AM  
Anonymous dbenson said...

I never really equated IHON with Depression -- just as a film that was made in that time. The "official" Depression comedies seemed to be My Man Godfrey, with its brief glimpses of a soundstage hobo camp full of white-collar bums, and Sullivan's Travels, with its Reality-seeking hero.

The difference? Both those films TALKED about the Depression (often in luxurious settings), while IHON just put it out there as the status quo.

IHON is like comedy shorts in that respect. Chaplin and sometimes Laurel & Hardy occupied a wistful, hobo-friendly landscape; the rest, when not in set in period or burlesqued wealth, were nervous middle class and down. The Stooges were especially low-income as well as low-budget, and even the early Disney and Fleischer cartoons kept their heroes close to the street.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Just happened to watch IHON back at Thanksgiving.

First viewing in 10- 15 years.

I love the "feel" of the movie.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I never really gave IHON my full attention until a year ago in which I liked it so much,I watched it again with my mom shortly after...I'd grown up seeing it in bits and pieces..and yes The Hitchhiking scene and The Walls of Jerico scene got played to death in old documentaries of the 60s and 70s,and is part of the reason that kept me from really being interested in seeing the whole thing.But I'm glad I did,its most enjoyable..

11:26 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Under Capra's tutelage, Gable had the opportunity to establish the "common man" prototype of depression era comedies. (Acknowleging the fact Robert Williams did it earlier, also with Capra, in Platinum Blonde, but that film didn't have nearly the same viewing numbers as IHON). IHON has one of Gable's most human portrayals, in contrast to playing the Olympian God of sexual magnetism, as always insisted by his home studio. Capra was clearly one of Gable's most effective directors, and, as he would later do with Cooper and Stewart, was able to help bring out the best in him as a performer. As much as he disliked being loaned to Columbia, Gable must have felt freer as a performer once he got into the spirit of the production, working on a little film of which noone expected anything than when performing under the protective eye of his MGM masters.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a romantic comedy pre-IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. ME AND MY GAL starring Spencer Tracy. Please do a posting on that film!

8:33 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

I've always found the expression "Capra-corn" to be a misnomer. Sure there are corny moments in many of Capra's films, but they're balanced by dark moments ("It's a Wonderful Life"), gritty portrayals of reality ("It Happened One Night") and black humor ("Arsenic & Old Lace"). To paint I've always felt it unfair that so many have painted Capra's films with a broad brush-stroke over the years, leading many that have never seen his films to believe the generalization, and maybe stay away from the films because of it.

As for your post, Johh, another top-notch and thought-provoking entry! As with most of your posts, it makes me want to revisit the film. That is the brilliance of your writing, John - you have the innate ability to engage your readers and to inspire them to further investigate the topics of your writings. :)

9:53 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I would have given some credit to writer Robert Riskin too.

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10118/herald1.jpg

German:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-aleman.jpg

Spanish:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/010/15t21277010.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/023/23p94953023.jpg

French (contemporary reissue):

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/019/23p89038019.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_1934%29_Two_Sheet_-_Harold_Seroy.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_us__c.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_us__b.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_usa_-_1934_-.jpg

Swedish:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_sw.jpg

Japanese:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_jp.jpg

Belgium:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_fr.jpg

German:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_de_-_1934_-.jpg

Spanish:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10023/Sucedio_una_noche_-_It_Happened_One_Night_-_tt0025316_-_es_-_1934_-_a.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-USA_8.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-USA_6.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-USA_4.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-USA_2.jpg

American:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-USA_1.jpg

Swedish:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-sueco.jpg

German:

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10015/1934-SUCEDIO_UNA_NOCHE-Frank_Capra-p_m__aleman_1.jpg

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

Interesting that Robert Montgomery turned it down; the same year he starred in "Fugitive Lovers," which, as memory serves me, was pretty similar in feel. Perhaps he thought one on-the-lam-by-bus romantic comedy was enough?

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Paul Duca said...

Happy New Year, and an off-topic question, about the Hopalong Cassidy fan card you have on the main page today--is that from the original theatrical release, rather than later (when William Boyd bet everything he had on the new medium of television and hit the jackpot as its first live action children's star)?

6:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Paul --- The Hoppy card came from Paramount's 1938 pressbook for "Sunset Trail," so it would be the original release.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting to compare "...Night" to It's 50s remake, "You Can't Run Away From It".There's a social history lesson(in comparisons)right there.And have you seen the 1936 German imitation, "Gluckskinder"? It's set in New York, and It's hero gets a beer at a drug store lunch counter!A song from the film is on the "Inglorious Basterds CD.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't cede an invention to one person when it's obvious so many others have their fingerprints on the patent. One example....... the collaboration of Charley Chase and Leo McCarey. Not just situation comedy, but romantic comedy. Capra owed and stole so much from the masters that preceded him. I interviewed him in the early seventies, as he was on tour plugging his autobiog "Name Above The Title." He was reticent to include the names of other Hollywood greats in our interview, even dismissing his time with Langdon, as him exceeding what Langdon could teach him, so he moved on. Many years later, other versions started to surface as to what happened during that time he was with Langdon and Harry Edwards. Don't be so quick to hail Frank Capra as the inventor of anything except Frank Capra and Capracorn.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

The furious reaction to Frank Capra's "Name Above the Title," especially among Harry Langdon fans, never fails to amuse me. Didn't any of these people read the Preface, where Capra states up front that "This is not truly an autobiography;" that he's going to play fast and loose with chronology and facts; that people and events will be presented "as I saw them from the inside of my own eyeballs?" Why do so many people feel taken in?

There's no question Langdon's reptutation has suffered because of both Capra's book and Sennett's from 1954. But in attempting to "set the record straight," a few enthusiasts have gone to the other extreme.

Langdon's vaudeville career is a case in point. While he didn't spend nearly two decades playing tank towns and two-bit "honky-tonks," as alleged by Sennett and Capra, neither was he the big, important vaudeville headliner presented in latter-day books and articles. Yes, he escaped small time when he reached the prestigious Keith circuit in 1911, and was playing (but not headlining at) the Palace in NY by 1916. But six years later, nothing much had changed. Langdon's automobile routine was still the meat-and-potatoes of his act, and while he was a proven audience favorite, he never truly cracked the big time: New York headliner. He was invited to bring his act to Broadway in 1920, in a revue called "Jim Jam Jems," but he wasn't starring, just one of several "specialty" acts. The show closed after about two months, and back he went to vaudeville.

Put another way: In November 1912, Langdon played his "A Night on the Boulevard," an act which was then four years old, at the Colonial in NY; in a less-prestigious place on the bill were Gordon and (Chico) Marx, a pair of Weber-and-Fields wannabes. Three years later, Langdon revised and retitled his act "Johnny's New Car," while Chico was one of the Four Marx Brothers headlining in "Home Again." Langdon started in vaudeville when Groucho was Julius Marx, Boy Soprano, and he was still there when "I'll Say She Is" was killing 'em in Philadelphia.

Back to Capra. Did he "invent" or even co-create Langdon's character? Of course not. Langdon's comedy, his strengths, his schtick, were set in place long before he walked in Sennett's door. The real question is: did Capra, more than anyone else, perceive the kinds of stories, situations and/or gags that would best showcase that character in films? The answer to that is not so cut-and-dried.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I'm not a big fan of Capra's films. Not because they are corny; quite the contrary. I often find them -- even the 'uplifting ones' -- too grim. For example, for all of the smiling faces at the end of It's a Wonderful Life, nothing in George Baily's life has really changed. That whistling through tragedy ethos has always left a dank taste in my mouth....

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,

I have a inquiry for the webmaster/admin here at www.randomshelf.blogspot.com.

May I use some of the information from your post right above if I give a backlink back to this site?

Thanks,
James

12:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That'll be OK, James. I like Random Shelf.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post.

10:22 PM  

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