It doesn’t get much more romantic than a newspaper headline of “Love Triumphs Again.”
There is much question whether love will in fact triumph in It Happened One Night, making it a precedent-setting romantic comedy before one was released every couple of months with the same formula used over and over again … boy meets girl, one of them messes it up and they fall in love with a friend or find their way back to each other.
Among the classic romantic comedies and films released in the 1930s-1950s I’ve watched during my challenge so far, a lot of them center on a newspaper reporter in need of their next front-page story (Roman Holiday, His Girl Friday) who falls in love with their subject or sometimes a struggling actress trying to make her way in Hollywood who falls in love with a leading man. I have barely scratched the surface of all the classic films I’d like to watch this year, (hit me up if you have a copy of Murnau’s The Last Laugh) but it’s just a trend I’m noticing about early Hollywood.
“It could be one of a hundred routine, American romantic comedies of the 1930s or 1940s,” writes critic Adrian Martin in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die when describing It Happened One Night.
Peter (Clark Cable) plays the journalist in the film who meets Ellie (Claudette Colbert), a rich girl on the lam from her father to meet her fiancé in New York.
There isn’t so much a love connection between the two characters at first but rather a love-hate connection as they both try to get to New York and face their share of roadblocks along the way.
Peter didn’t need to become a traveling partner for Ellie, but he sees a story in her life and, subconsciously, something more.
The film, released in 1934, was ahead of its time for the genre with a solid script, written by Robert Riskin from a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, that mixes some screwball comedy and wit with true romance between two characters whose differences are only on the surface.
It also set a record for winning all five of the top Academy Awards, best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress, before One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs did the same years later, according to Martin’s review.
Claudette Colbert lights up the screen as Ellie and delivers a good share of the slapstick comedy balanced by Clark Gable’s somewhat of a tough-guy persona and dry humor in Peter.
It’s a small scene, but one of my favorites with Peter and Ellie is during a breakfast together when he criticizes her for how she dunks her doughnuts in coffee.
I could see them 50 years from that time doing the same thing, and the next moment arguing about dinner or who would do the chores.
It’s a shame there are so romantic comedies today (I almost can’t believe I said that because I do watch them pretty regularly) and that any originality in the genre is hard to come by or be noticeable. I know there are some, such 500 Days of Summer or perhaps Sleepwalk with Me (honestly just from looking at my shelf of DVDs), but I recommend trying some of the early classics like It Happened One Night to see where it all started.