In my lifetime, I have had many encounters that happened in one eventful evening. I have had glorious romantic interludes, made new friends in a blink of an eye, tried something entirely out of my comfort zone, laughed for hours out of pure joy, traveled across the world, and fallen in love. One night can be a lifetime. It can signal change, growth, and realizing what is possible. All it takes is for you to be open, and the universe will take care of the rest. One night I danced in the streets of Jerusalem on their Independence Day. One night I gave birth to my son, Aaron. One night I held my mother for the last time. One night I performed in a local improv show. One night I held my future husband’s hand for the first time. The first times are special and magnificent. They can leave you breathless. First times can make you sigh deep within yourself. It is a timeless feeling that doesn’t happen every day. This occurred to two lost strangers who weren’t looking for magic but found it when IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT took the “Grand Slam” top tier of the Oscars, which included Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin.) Only two other films since have been awarded all the top five Oscars. Claudette Colbert did not think she would win and did not attend the ceremony. Clark Gable gave away his Oscar to a young boy who admired it. He said, “It meant more to win the award than to keep it. When Clark died, the boy gave the Oscar back to the Gable family, but years later, Steven Spielberg bought the Oscar, had it refurbished, and gave it to the Academy for posterity. Neither Claudette nor Clark wanted to make this film, and it was the only Oscar either would receive for the rest of their careers. Now that’s irony.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, opened in 1934. This was almost ninety years ago, and the plot line is still used as a template for most rom/com movies ever since. It is hailed as a “first” of its kind. Most rom/com films follow behind. It is not a complicated story. Renegade rogue reporter Peter (Clark Gable) meets runaway heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert) by accident one night. Through this incredibly crazy journey, they accidentally fall in love without realizing what is happening. They share an adventure of a lifetime and want it never to end. There are many complications along the way, but this was how it all began and how they bonded.
I have two favorite scenes. First is the hitchhiker fiasco. Peter says there are three ways to stop a car and get a ride. “It is all in the thumb.” Not so, says Ellie, who knows the “thighs” have much more power. The second is “the walls of Jericho” motel scene. What fun to know that Peter always travels with rope in his suitcase so he can divide a room at any time by adding a blanket. Hilarious. And Peter does a great “almost” strip routine to add to the “lusty” moments. It was scandalous since he did not wear an undershirt. Clark Gable fans and I were extremely thankful.
To be a romantic comedy, there must be chemistry between the couple involved. It is a testament to the incredible acting skills of Clark and Claudette since neither one of them liked the other very much. Yet, their intimate moments together were believable and compelling. They looked at ease and adoringly with each other. Clark literally played himself as an irascible man’s man, and Claudette was “doe-eyed.” What was acceptable decades ago might not cut it today. Times have changed how a man and woman discover their feelings while “pretending” in front of a camera, but it does not diminish this film’s brilliance and entertainment factor. The director, Frank Capra, was wise and knew how to get the best from his leading stars. He enjoyed making IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT in only four weeks. He even became a part of one of the scenes on the bus playing a singing passenger who led his captive audience in a rousing third verse to THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE. Capra can do it all.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is a true film classic that does not come along very often. The stars literally had to be in alignment. It is easy to view with a lovely payoff. It begs the question viewers have pondered for almost a century. Why did this film click so well? The answer is simple… it’s just a bit of movie magic everyone can relate to and dream about. It reinforces the adage that anything is possible, and IT CAN HAPPEN ONE NIGHT.
IT CAN HAPPEN ONE NIGHT is available on TCM.