Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has just married against her father’s will, so he takes his daughter back to his yacht, only for her to jump ship and try to return to her husband. Peter Warne (Clark Gable) is an out of work newspaper reporter searching for a real juicy story that will get him back in the game. Peter and Ellie end up sitting next to each other on a bus and Peter realizes soon who Ellie is and that there’s a search out for her. Seeing that she’s a spoiled little rich girl, completely helpless and can’t even return to a bus on time, Peter decides to help her out in exchange for the story. If she doesn’t accept, he’ll let everyone know where she is and she’ll be back with daddy. Of course, along the way these two charming people fall in love with each other, compromising their original agendas.
Like I said, this is what many people consider to be the first romantic comedy and set a standard (that most today fall far below). According to It Happened One Night, a good romcom needs:
-two good looking people we can enjoy watching
-put together by fate
-needing each other more as the story progresses, possibly rescuing each other
-a lot of fun moments that help them bond
-a conflict in their eventually realized romance
Am I missing anything? That sounds like the minimalist sketch of any decent romcom. Notice how sex jokes, flat characters, bad actors, the guy being a complete dufus, a final chase to the airport and a way too long kiss we all knew was coming with a top pop song of the week playing in the background are not part of that list.
Things are kept respectable, the Walls of Jericho are a prime example of that. When Ellie and Peter are stuck sharing a little motel room together, it’s obvious they’re uncomfortable with the idea. So Peter puts up a little clothes line in between and drapes a sheet over it to separate the room in half. What a gentleman. And to lighten the mood he dubs their barrier as the Walls of Jericho. As we watch the relationship between Ellie and Peter grow, we realize the walls between them are starting to tumble, will the Walls of Jericho eventually fall as well?
Another great scene is where the two are trying to hitchhike. I bet you’ve seen the punch line even without seeing the film. Peter explains to Ellie the different kinds of hitchhiking that can make you appeal to drivers in different ways. After a fruitless effort with cars whizzing by, Ellie decides to show him how it’s done. She simply sticks her leg out and raises her dress to show just enough ankle and calf to get the next car to screech to a halt. Classic!
Now come on, why wouldn’t you want to see this movie? It’s got two of the greatest classic film stars together, the plot is engaging, the comedy is hilarious and the whole thing is a fun ride. Let me put it this way, are you really going to waste your time with The Bounty Hunter this weekend when It Happened One Night can run circles around it in every way? Here’s a good reason to chose wisely:
“I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week.”