It Happened One Night (USA, 1934)

it-happened-one-night-posterDirected by: Frank Capra. I only stumbled across this one because I was re-reading my old Robert Ray book about Classic Hollywood and the Western mythology/binary oppositions theory and all that jazz. In it, Ray mentions a few classic films that I haven’t seen, and in my effort to keep up on old stuff, I decided to take a look at this one and a few others. This one doesn’t have the staying power and cultural ubiquity of Capra’s other big hit, It’s a Wonderful Life, but this movie was one of the only movies to clean up big at the Oscars (all 5 big awards, I believe), so it was a major cultural phenomenon at the time. And, I’m ashamed to say, this was my first proper introduction to Clark Gable, one of the towering and iconic Classic Hollywood personalities. Claudette Colbert I recognized from Drums Along the Mohawk. Together, they’re really quite good, and overall this movie is a nice little story, and a nice little showcase for these two actors to do their thing, riffing off each other, making this “odd couple” parable just sweet enough, just believable enough, without getting too unbearably sentimental. For me, the story works because they spend a lot of time focusing on the simple part—the two of them, in a bus, or stranded on the road, generally on the lam together, slowly getting to know each other, gain each other’s trust, and grow to love the parts of each other that they at first loathed. On paper, such things can really come across ham-fisted and insultingly pat and childish, but here it seems to work. I definitely run the risk of giving a pass to old movies, over-compensating for the jarring, outdated ideology at work and the old-fashioned (by our standards, totally backwards, sexist, patronizing) attitudes towards women and sexuality. In trying to see through it to the movie that they would have seen at the time, and simultaneously trying to measure it against whatever “objective” criteria I have today, I can come through the other side completely bereft of a satisfactory critical methodology of any kind, and find myself resorting to “Did I like it or not”-isms, like now. I liked it! If you like old movies, you might like this too! But if you don’t, then you probably won’t make it halfway through. Nobody says “fuck”, and the only sex scene is a child-friendly joke at the very end, and a running gag based on a biblical allusion. If Iron Man 3 is your favourite movie, you won’t be able to bear any of that, but then again, if Iron Man 3 is your favourite movie, then it wouldn’t kill you to see more movies, even old ones like this.

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3 responses to “It Happened One Night (USA, 1934)

  1. Pingback: The Philadelphia Story (USA, 1940) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Meet Me in St. Louis (USA, 1944) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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