Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
This is one of the few Frank Capra movies I can watch without getting annoyed or queasy. It was made before he let his sentimental populism go to his head, so it has just the right amount of social consciousness, especially the sympathy for the victims of the Great Depression. We see that especially in the camaraderie of the bus riders singing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," the willingness of Peter (Clark Gable) to give his last dollar to help a mother and son who have spent all their money on bus fare and have none left for food, and in the sense of entitlement shown by rich girl Ellie (Claudette Colbert), who learns a lesson when she tries to jump the queue for the showers at the trailer court. Later, Capra would want to preach at us about the power of The People in Meet John Doe (1941) and the way One Man Can Change the World in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), films I can barely watch today. But here he's just content to give us a good-natured romantic comedy with a social subtext. It has all the earmarks of the genre: a meet-cute, a hate-at-first-sight, a falling-in-love, a crisis, and a happy ending -- the paradigmatic runaway bride. It's not especially a laugh-riot, which may be why Gable and Colbert, who didn't want to make the movie to start with, thought when they'd finished it that it would be a bomb. Its charms are quieter but in their way entirely satisfying, in part because whatever their doubts about the movie they were making, the two stars were consummate pros and Capra allowed their natural charm and charisma to shine. All three of them won Oscars, of course, as did the movie and Robert Riskin for his screenplay. Joseph Walker's cinematography deserves a mention, as does a cast that includes Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Alan Hale, and, as the dimwit bus driver whose only response to Peter's insults is a feeble "Oh, yeah," Ward Bond.