Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It Happened One Night

This is one of those movies that I've heard about my whole life, largely made reference to by innumerable sitcoms where a new couple has to share a bedroom unexpectedly. The actresses in those shows always seemed to take on such an almost reverent attitude about the film, as if there was something in the romantic story that they aspired to in their real lives. But I can't say I've ever heard anyone in real life talk about the film that way. It is a very corny idea for a story -- heiress flees fiancee, and gets help dealing with harsh reality by a down-on-his-luck reporter, and they fall in love along the way. It's mostly a movie about moments -- the hitchhiking scene, the singing on the bus scene, and of course the "walls of Jericho" scene. And there is an undoubted chemistry between Colbert and Cooper. Frank Capra doesn't do a lot of love stories, so this one stands out compared to his other films. And there are so many fascinating stories around this film. Apparently Colbert wasn't interested in doing it, and they made the film incredibly fast (4 weeks) so they could meet her expensive weekly rate. It is based on a short story called Night Bus (that I would like to read sometime) that Capra apparently read in a magazine in a waiting room, and thought it would make a good film. After it was made, Colbert is said to have told her friends that she just made the worst picture of her career. It must have been quite a surprise, then, when the film won five Oscars, including Best Actress. Everything was working against this film, but there is something magical in it. I think it centers on the father character - the film does something very clever here, making a kind of straw man villain, and then taking that villain away, creating a sudden shift from external opposition to internal opposition, creating a "cave" situation where the protagonists must each transform for the story to resolve. It really is a sort of a rabbit out of a hat -- if you know a story that has the same structure as this one, I'd love to know about it.
And speaking of rabbits, apparently Bugs Bunny's carrot eating was inspired by the carrot scenes between Cooper and Colbert in this film. I guess it shows that when we make things, one never knows what effect they might one day have.

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