It Happened One Night in 1934

Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas. Directed by Frank Capra. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 (full-frame). Dolby Digital mono. 105 minutes. 1934. Columbia 03949. NR. $24.95.

It Happened One Night was the first film to be awarded the top five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. (The feat wasn't repeated until One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1974.) Though the movie might seem overly quaint to some in this era of bared breasts and butts and bathroom humor, others will enjoy the wit and snappy dialogue of this pioneering screwball comedy.

Clark Gable is said to have been loaned to Columbia for the movie from MGM as punishment for not accepting MGM scripts. Claudette Colbert had to be paid double her normal salary for the film in order to get her to cancel a month's vacation. After the hurried filmmaking was over—director Frank Capra had only the month Colbert was off in which to make the movie—she called it "the worst film of my life." She couldn't have been more wrong.

Based on a magazine article, "Night Bus," It Happened One Night is about a rich, spoiled heiress (Colbert) about to marry a famous aviator she doesn't love in order to spite her father. She runs away from her father to marry the flier and meets a fired newspaper reporter (Gable) on a bus. Together they make their way to New York, arguing, calling each other names, and, of course, falling in love.

The most famous scene takes place in a motel, where the two share a room—a risqué situation in 1934. Gable ties a rope across the room, between the two beds, and hangs a blanket over it—the famous "wall of Jericho." "That, I suppose, makes everything quite alright," Colbert says. "Well, I like privacy when I retire," he replies, wearing that famous smirk. "Yes, I'm very delicate in that respect. Prying eyes annoy me." There's sexual tension between the two as they go to bed on either side of the blanket, but absolutely nothing happens except more snappy bickering.

Gable's character is a wisecracking sort, a know-it-all who gets his comeuppance when he and Colbert are trying to hitchhike. He explains how easy it is for a smart guy to catch a ride, then fails to get any in a line of cars to stop. It isn't until Colbert shows off her shapely legs that a car comes to a screeching halt. The scene has been parodied and copied in everything from TV shows to films to cartoons.

But however quaint the film, the dialogue crackles, as does the chemistry between the two stars. The film transfer is as sharp as one could reasonably expect of a 66-year-old movie, and the sound quality is fine. The DVD has a couple of interesting extras: Frank Capra, Jr. talks about some memories his father shared with him about the making of the film in a commentary you can listen to while viewing the movie, and shares more of the same in a short documentary.

If you've never seen It Happened One Night, this DVD offers you the chance to catch up on film history and be beguiled by Gable and Colbert. If you've seen it, there's no better way to enjoy it again than by getting this disc.