Classics Corner: It Happened One Night

12 10 2011

According to the American Film Institute, it’s the eighth funniest movie and third best romantic comedy ever.  The Library of Congress has added it to the National Film Registry of movies deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  It was the first movie to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.  By all measures, Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” is a movie for the books.

So then why was I so unaffected by it?  Is the movie really so seminal that it feels hackneyed and trite in retrospect?

My conclusion is yes, “It Happened One Night” is a movie that contributed so much to the medium of cinema that Frank Capra’s film itself looks so small in comparison.  The fact that the “opposites attract” premise is still the dominant plot point of romantic comedy over 75 years later should serve as testament enough to the movie’s influence.  While my lack of definitive cinematic knowledge prohibits me from declaring with certainty that this is the first movie to introduce the idea, I think the movie’s widespread industry and critical acclaim cemented that the formula was acceptable.

I wouldn’t DARE compare a Frank Capra movie to a horrible Jennifer Aniston movie, but I will say that “The Bounty Hunter” sure did rip off this classic.  The romantic comedy babe, played here by a star of the century, Claudette Colbert as Ellie Andrews, is a spoiled brat running away from her tyrannical father.  The hunk is the great Clark Gable as Peter Warne, a rogue reporter looking for a story … and finds one in her.  The story is amusing enough, but it’s very cut and dry.  I’m happy to call it generational differences because I sure can respect “It Happened One Night,” but that doesn’t mean I have to be head over heels for it.