Clark Gable was the bees knees in pre-1950s Hollywood. His ability to make women swoon rivals the current ability of tween sensation Justin Bieber to affect his league of beliebers. As I became seasoned in cinematic fandom, I never quite understood why the puffy-faced old chap received the accolades he has, that is until I watched It Happened One Night. Overnight, I became obsessed with Gable attempting to watch every major film he had starred in. Disappointment swept over me when I realized I was only attracted to and deeply impressed with Gable as Peter Warren. And only Peter Warren.
Suck it Rhett, you and your weird face.
It Happened One Night was the little engine that technically shouldn’t have. The script for It Happened One Night faced countless gutting and rewrites before screenplay writer Robert Risken’s finalized script made its way into the hands of potential stars. Yet, the roles of lead characters Ellie and Peter were turned down from the likes of Montgomery Cliff to Bette Davis before finally being accepted by the reluctant Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. Rumor has it that Gable only accepted the role due to being a studio “owned” actor whose company loaned him out to Columbia as a form of “punishment.” Colbert, on the other hand, took the job under the condition that the studio double her salary and cut filming time enough for her to vacation. She is famously quoted as having told others when filming wrapped, “I just finished the worst picture in the world.”
And who could blame her? Even the plot outline sounds pretty trite. A spoiled governess is forced to get an annulment from her newly married husband by her overbearing father. In a feat of defiance, Ellie Andrews jumps ship, quite literally jumping off her father’s boat, then hopping on a Greyhound bus to reunite with her forbidden love. Yet, her path crosses with a down on his luck, alcoholic journalist, Peter Warren. Peter realizes what a story on her could do for his career leading the duo to embark on a journey filled with ridiculous coincidences, quirky characters, and lots of insults.
First and foremost, Clark Gable. Peter Warren as a character is one of those rare cinematic anomalies whose greatness begins with the writer and ends with the actor’s phenomenal performance. Peter is a selfish drunk nursing the chip on his shoulder with a false sense of superiority. In short, he’s pretty much a dick. He’s that guy that all rational women are told to stay away from at an early age. Still, he’s that guy that gets the girl, causing other men to constantly question, “is she really going out with him?”
“Is she really going out with him? Is she really gonna take him tonight?”
Yet, like all good character development we see his highs and lows allowing us to love him for all of his flaws. Sure, he’ll take a sock to me every day whether it’s coming to me or not, but he’s doing so because loves me. Peter and Ellie’s relationship builds through their defiance and initial disdain for one another. The complexities of their feelings for one another are shown simply through genial, intimate moments between together. Riskin’s script delicately unveils the simple pleasures shared by the couple which produces their inevitable spark, like when they trade tricks of dunking donuts over breakfast or start to understand their own symbiotic relationship under the stars.
Apart from swooning and waiting for my Peter Warren to arrive every time I watch It Happened One Night, I can’t help but laugh every time– the entire time. Don’t let the time period fool you, 1930s humor was classy and blunt. There’s jokes of spousal abuse, double entendre, and nearly every character can barely have a conversation without being insulted or insulting someone else. Everyone’s a smartass and no one has time for another’s bull. It’s prime humor for dry, quick-witted, cynics who don’t mind a good love story for good measure.
There’s no question about it, It Happened One Night is a pretty perfect film. It’s wickedly funny, a fresh story, and features two of the most charismatic performances of its time, perhaps that is why it was the first of a handful of films to have won best Best Picture, Actress, Actor, Screenplay, and Director at the Academy Awards. Director Frank Capra took a pile of turd that was dropped in his lap and rolled it into a befuddling masterpiece. It Happened One Night is the best type of gem, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but sparkles brighter than any other of its type.
Take a Drink: every time someone is insulted
Take a Drink: every time Peter refers to Ellie as “Brat”
Take a Drink: every time Ellie proves herself to be incapable of taking care of herself.
Take a Drink: at every pit stop or layover of their Greyhound bus has.