Saturday, June 2, 2012

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night

#35 (1998) and #46 (2007) of the AFI 100 Best Movies

It Happened One Night is a 1934 American romantic comedy film with elements of screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, in which a pampered socialite (Claudette Colbert) tries to get out from under her father's thumb, and falls in love with a roguish reporter (Clark Gable). The plot was based on the story Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which provided the shooting title. It Happened One Night was one of the last romantic comedies created before the MPAA began enforcing the 1930 production code in 1934. In spite of its title the movie takes place over several nights.

The film was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), a feat that would not be matched until One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and later by The Silence of the Lambs (1991). In 1993, It Happened One Night was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

* Clark Gable as Peter Warne
* Claudette Colbert as Ellie Andrews
* Walter Connolly as Alexander Andrews
* Roscoe Karns as Oscar Shapeley, an annoying bus passenger who tries to pick up Ellie
* Jameson Thomas as "King" Westley
* Alan Hale as Danker
* Arthur Hoyt as Zeke
* Blanche Friderici as Zeke's wife
* Charles C. Wilson as Joe Gordon
* Ward Bond appears early in the film in an uncredited role as a bus driver

At the 7th Academy Awards for 1934, It Happened One Night became the first film ever to win the "Big Five" Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing). To date, only two more films have achieved this feat: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 and The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Also, It Happened One Night was the last film to win both lead acting Academy Awards, until 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest also won both lead acting awards.

On December 15, 1996, Clark Gable's Oscar was auctioned off to Steven Spielberg for $607,500; Spielberg promptly donated the statuette to the Motion Picture Academy. On June 9, the following year, Colbert's Oscar was offered for auction by Christie's. No bids were made for it.

Neither Gable nor Colbert were the first choices to play the lead roles. Miriam Hopkins first rejected the part of Ellie. Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy were then offered the roles, but each turned the script down, though Loy later noted that the final story as filmed bore little resemblance to the script that she and Montgomery had been offered for their perusal. Margaret Sullavan also rejected the part. Constance Bennett was willing to play the role if she could produce the film herself; however, Columbia Pictures would not allow this. Then Bette Davis wanted the role, but was under contract with Warner Brothers and Jack Warner refused to loan her. Carole Lombard was unable to accept, because the filming schedule conflicted with that of Bolero. Loretta Young also turned it down.

Harry Cohn suggested Colbert, and she initially turned the role down. Colbert's first film, For the Love of Mike (1927), had been directed by Frank Capra, and it was such a disaster that she vowed to never make another with him. Later on, she agreed to appear in It Happened One Night only if her salary was doubled to $50,000, and also on the condition that the filming of her role be completed in four weeks so that she could take her well-planned vacation.

According to Hollywood legend, Gable was lent to Columbia Pictures, then considered a minor studio, as some kind of "punishment" for refusing a role at his own studio. This tale has been partially refuted by more recent biographies. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer did not have a movie project ready for Gable, and the studio was paying him his contracted salary of $2,000 per week whether he worked or not. Louis B. Mayer lent him to Columbia Pictures for $2,500 per week, hence netting MGM $500 per week while he was gone. Capra, however, insists that Gable was a reluctant participant in the film.

Filming began in a tense atmosphere as Gable and Colbert were dissatisfied with the quality of the script. However, they established a friendly working relationship and found that the script was no worse than those of many of their earlier films. Capra understood their dissatisfaction and tried to lighten the mood by having Gable play practical jokes on Colbert, who responded with good humor.

Colbert, however, continued to show her displeasure on the set. She also initially balked at pulling up her skirt to entice a passing driver to provide a ride, complaining that it was unladylike. Upon seeing the chorus girl who was brought in as her body double, an outraged Colbert told the director, "Get her out of here. I'll do it. That's not my leg!" Through the filming, Capra claimed, Colbert "had many little tantrums, motivated by her antipathy toward me," however "she was wonderful in the part." After her acceptance speech at the Oscars ceremony, she went back on stage and thanked Capra for making the film.

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