The Roanoke theatrical release of Due Date prompted a recollection of the classic seminal screwball road trip comedy It Happened One Night. As reviewed in a previous article, this 1934 classic remains a funny, delightful, and romantic entertainment that deserves another viewing by fans and awaits a joyful discovery by those unfamiliar with it. However, it was not all fun and games bringing the movie from page to screen.
Director Frank Capra first came across the story that would become his masterpiece in a Cosmopolitan article titled Night Bus. He felt there was a screenplay in this story of a runaway heiress and the reporter tagging along for her story and had a screenplay developed. Yet few besides Capra had faith in the little film that takes place on a bus, in the woods, and on the highway. It was a tough sell to Harry Cohn at Columbia, but ultimately Capra got the greenlight.
Next came the casting. Clark Gable had not shown his comedic chops prior to this film. He was loaned out to the then considered second rate Columbia Pictures as punishment for turning down a contracted picture at MGM. It turned out to be a blessing for both the star and Columbia Pictures. Gable also loved working with Capra and felt it some of the most fun he had making a picture.
Claudette Colbert wanted to go on vacation and insisted on a tight four week shooting schedule. She also managed to get twice her usual salary. Though signed on, Colbert hated making the movie and complained throughout the shoot. Once the movie had wrapped, she claimed she had just finished the worst picture she ever made.
The tight four week shooting schedule largely influenced the movie’s frenetic pacing. This was another blessing in disguise as it not only hilariously drove the action and led to some wonderful impromptu moments but also invented a new genre, the screwball comedy. That same pacing led to an unexpectedly controversial moment. Clark Gable almost destroyed the undershirt industry overnight by revealing he wasn’t wearing one. According to Frank Capra Jr., having to remove that additional article of clothing during a comic moment in which Gable undresses would have bogged down the flow of the scene.
All of the hard work involved in the short harried shoot paid off greater than anyone involved ever expected. Audiences packed movie houses everywhere It Happened One Night screened. Critics raved and the Academy Awards honored the little movie with gold statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Even Claudette Colbert came around and accepted her award saying she owed it to Frank Capra.
If ever there was a cinematic example of where there’s a will there’s a way, It Happened One Night is one of the all-time champs.