Tuesday, January 10, 2012

#70 AFI's Top 100 Movie List - #35 It Happened One Night

I'm starting to thank my lucky stars that I chose to watch the AFI's Top 100 Movie List instead of all the Oscar Best Picture winners, because when I sat down to watch this gem with Katieschmatie she seemed a little more jaded than usual about our movie watching, and I think that so far her experiences have not been as pleasant as all of mine.

K: It better be good.
Me: It's from 1934.
K: It's going to be awful.

Funny enough, I found out from reading the Wikipedia Page that the actors thought the same thing, and yet it's number 35 on the AFI's list! No one wanted to play the leads in this movie. Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert finally agreed to do so, very reluctantly. But, despite their (and Katieschmatie's) expectations, it was a fantastic movie. It was the first movie to ever sweep the "Big Five" in the Academy Awards - Best Picture, Director, Writing, Actor and Actress!

Based on the short story Night Bus by Samual Hopkins Adams, It Happened One Night is full of witticisms, chivalry, humility, comedy, romance and stupidity. It begins with the feisty Ellie Andrews (my favorite classic movie female character so far) on a hunger strike because her uber-wealthy father managed to annul her recent and unconsummated marriage to a man he disapproves of, King Westley. I'm sad to say that we were about 2/3 of the way into the movie before I realized that King was his first name and not his title. I thought it was more exciting when he was royalty. Finding that her hunger strike has no effect on her over protective father, Ellie manages to shove her way out of her bedroom, elude the crew, dive overboard and swim to land.

This prompts her father to send the immediate telegram to the police: "Daughter escaped again."

I love this girl. Now, I'm not saying that she doesn't have the usual classic-movie-female-syndrome. She is absolutely tempermental, stupid, bull-headed, rushing into danger, and rather helpless in many ways until Clark Gable's character Peter Warren takes her under his wing, but for once there's a good reason behind her behavior! It's not because she's a woman, it's because her father raised her to be a rich, spoiled, good-for-nothing brat! Clark Gable, as Peter, makes it quite clear that he thinks she's a waste of space, but that it's her father's fault and so he doesn't completely blame her - and in fact, by the end of the movie, has found quite a few redeeming qualities about her.

This movie also broke barriers in other ways - starting a new trend where men didn't wear undershirts for instance, after Clark Gable strips down in the hotel room and is wearing nothing under his button-down shirt. Katie and I were also surprised that the movie showed Ellie undressing on camera, and went so far as to show her in her slip once! What really shook Claudette Colbert's feminine sensibilities, however, was the hitch-hiking scene. At first she refused to do it, considering it unladylike, but she didn't approve of the body double's performance (or maybe just her limbs) and so ended up showing a little leg herself!
Katie and I discussed it, we think this might have been the movie to first document this, now popular, move. I certainly haven't found anything to lead me to think otherwise - so if you know of an earlier film or tv show with this in it, let me know! Right now I'm going to give It Happened One Night the credit for this risque show.

I found a lot to laugh at, all throughout the movie, and I thought it very well done. The usual mix-up of motives, lack of communication and general stupidity of the characters at the end of the movie didn't bother me like it does in modern movies. For some reason, it made more sense that the characters ended up in their mixed-up situation, their motives were honest rather than being bred from a well of general idiocy. I didn't groan and wait anxiously for the mishap to be over, I just happily laughed my way through the various silly antics and bad decisions, all the way until the happy ending.

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