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It Happened One Night

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 101 mins . PG . PAL


It truly is amazing how much the world has changed in the past 70 years – not that I’ve been around for them all, of course... And here’s another example for you. It Happened One Night is essentially a light and fluffy, deep as a fingerbowl romantic comedy, and it went on to be nominated for, and win, what are still considered to be the five major Academy Awards back in 1934 – Best Picture, Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudia Colbert), Best Director (Frank Capra) and Best Screenplay. Now, just try to imagine something like Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally pulling that one off.

It really is a simple tale, based heavily on a short story that featured in Cosmopolitan magazine entitled Night Bus. Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a spoiled little rich kid, the heiress of a Wall Street newspaper magnate, who’s used to having her own way. After escaping her father’s clutches by jumping ship, in order to return to her aviator husband King Westley – a pairing a certain Dad isn’t particularly jazzed about – Ellie ends up on the lam heading towards New York.

It’s on a night bus from Miami that Ellie meets one Peter Warne (Gable), a somewhat down and out reporter who has just been sacked by his editor. The two take an instant dislike to each other, but as these stories always have it we just know they’ll end up falling head over heels for each other, which of course they do. As it happens this is rather fortuitous for the runaway heiress, as her father has called in police, detectives, his contacts in the newspapers and that which speaks the most to the world – a ten grand reward – for anybody leading to his daughter being found, but with a sobered-up and extremely protective Peter on her side the pair manage to elude capture through a series of bus jaunts and hitched rides, squabbling merrily along the way. But when they arrive in New York, Ellie is set to have a proper church wedding with that Westley guy. He started off looking for a story, but then he feel for her - will it be a case of poor old Pete losing out once again, or will he end up winning the hand of the dame?

There you go – as deep as a fingerbowl. What is intriguing is that It Happened One Night appeared doomed from its inception. Frank Capra was unable to get hold of the pair he wanted for the lead roles (Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy), and ended up settling for Gable and Colbert – neither of whom were exactly mad keen to do the gig (although it’s a given that they were somewhat happier about it all when that little Oscar guy was plopped in their eager and sweaty mitts). Remarkably, considering the reluctance of the two to participate, it is the fabulous chemistry that they share that makes the film so endearing. Sure, by today’s standards it’s about as fulfilling as a rice cracker, however it certainly makes a delightfully pleasant change from ultra-leaden dramas, breasts-out teen romps and over the top special effects extravaganzas.


If you didn’t skip the introduction, you’ll know that this film dates back to 1934. This conjures up a few givens – it’s being black and white and full frame being two of the most obvious. That it features a number of speckles, scratches, lines and other filmic intruders is another safe one – for it does, however all things considered the job done by the good old Sony DVD Center is quite impressive, especially when compared with the simply hideous looking trailer that is also included on this disc. There are some attacks of the wobbles, and also the lights and darks, however generally for a movie from the quite early days of the craft things scrub up reasonably pleasingly. There’s a layer change, which is expertly placed in a fade to black between scenes. Ah, the days of the fade to black...


Another given – yes, naturally it’s resolutely mono, and to be honest it can be a little challenging to catch all that’s being said at times. Some distortion and crackles tend to creep in, and things do have a tendency to become a little muffled and pumpy at times too. Still, synch is pretty much spot-on throughout, and there’s not much else to say – except perhaps that this is one time when subtitles are a definite advantage, and luckily they are quite accurate.


It’s quite boggling sometimes, we’ll get a brand new film released on DVD, and there won’t be a single extra included – often not even a trailer for those of us who enjoy them. Then along comes a flick from 1934 and it has a decent selection of bonus goodies, in fact enough to keep you entertained for over an hour.

First up is a theatrical trailer (1:24), which eschews the use of a voiceover in favour of letting scenes from the film speak for themselves. This is in pretty appalling shape, and its wobbles, scratches and general dinginess serve to make us appreciate all the more the quality of the main feature.

Next is a feature that came as quite a surprise, an original radio broadcast (59:38) from 1935 featuring Gable and Colbert on the Lux Radio Theatre programme, recreating their movie roles for those out there in radio land. Sure, all we get on screen is a static piccie of an old radio on a star field background (and delightfully tacky it is, too), however sitting back and listening to Cecil B. DeMille presenting, the extended adverts for Lux soap, the interviews with the stars, entertainment news and, of course, the feature, will certainly be an utter joy for some.

The next cab off the rank is a featurette (11:16) entitled Frank Capra Jnr. Remembers It Happened One Night. Made in 1999, not surprisingly this contains colour as well as black and white footage, and is an intriguing summation of the film from its genesis through to its eventual runaway success. New footage is of pretty good quality, while archival stuff varies greatly, as most would expect.

Rounding out the package are a gallery featuring vintage advertising, more specifically a selection of 12 posters and lobby cards promoting the film; some pitifully brief point-form talent profiles on Gable, Colbert and Capra, featuring brief selected filmographies and a few factoids; and a booklet with an introduction by Bill Collins, giving brief rundowns on each release in this Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment series of Academy Award winning movies.


For a slice of filmic fun and romance from when things seemed so much simpler, and a peek at one of the first examples of that enduring genre the romantic comedy, this “screwball comedy” is hard to go past – and with a decent job converting it to DVD (all things considered), plus a generous selection of extras, the disc offers good value to fans of the oldies.

The leads carry the whole film with a fabulous rapport, there’s some fabulously witty and engaging scripting and, goodness gracious me, you even get to see some of Claudette’s leg – it’s scurrilous I tell you! Pass me my smelling salts – oooooooooooh...


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      And I quote...
    "A slice of filmic fun and romance from when things seemed so much simpler, and a peek at one of the first examples of that enduring genre the romantic comedy..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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