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The Front Row View: It Happened One Night

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man.

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81 years ago yesterday, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night premiered. Nobody expected much from it. Clark Gable was assigned to the movie by MGM, the studio that he was contracted to, as penance for being “uppity.” They loaned him out to Columbia Pictures, at the time a not too reputable studio derisively referred to by the industry as Poverty Row. He wasn’t happy with being assigned to it (as you can guess, stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age lacked the freedom that they have today) as was his co-star, Claudette Colbert (on loan from Paramount). A previous movie about a night bus had failed and It Happened One Night’s young director, Capra, hadn’t had a hit movie in some time. It was expected to pull in a few stray dollars at the box office and nothing more. Yet something wonderful happened. Depression-era America took immediately to it’s oddball mix of wise guy humor, cracker barrel philosophy and heavenly romance. Colbert was a sassy treat, Riskin’s script was crammed with unforgettable characters and situations, Capra directed at a brisk and flavorful pace, and Gable….well. Let’s just say that if ever I had an idol growing up, it was Gable in this movie…smart, resourceful, always on top of the situation and appealing even when he makes a fool of himself. The movie swept the 1934 Academy Awards and took the top 5 Oscars—Best Picture, Actor (Gable), Actress (Colbert), Director (Capra) and Screenplay Adaptation (Riskin). It’s a feat that’s only been duplicated twice more—in 1975, for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and in 1991 for The Silence of the Lambs. It Happened One Night is an American Classic that will never lose it’s appeal. Anyone who’s looking for a Golden Age dose of wit, sophistication and Hollywood Magic need look no further. Hope you enjoyed the Oscars!