There’s something particularly tragic about It Happened One Night: somehow, Capra and Riskin let it get away from them. It’s possible–likely even–the awkward conclusion was a result of not having access to the stars (Gable and Colbert were both on loan to Columbia), but it doesn’t really matter. Riskin went from a deliberate pace–the majority of the film takes place over three or four nights, these days and nights being the film’s content for the first ninety minutes (I suppose the opening scene is an indeterminate period of time before these days begin, but probably not more than seven hours)–to a rushed one… the third act takes place over a week and takes up about fifteen minutes of time. However, were it not for Riskin’s change in point of view, futzing with the pace wouldn’t matter. The point of view change, combined with the pace (and the lack of the main characters) kneecap It Happened One Night when it needs to be its best.
The point of view in the film is, for the majority of it, excessively brilliant. Capra and Riskin create a masterpiece of realism and humanism, while still making a romantic comedy. The viewer is with Gable and Colbert on the road and Capra films it on location a lot (I think except some interiors) and Riskin writes it real. Watching Gable, who I really love as movie star, actually have such a great script to act–he’s fantastic. His performance is incredibly rich and deep and different from anything else I’ve ever seen him do. Colbert’s great too, with her character forming throughout. Riskin just does an excellent job and Capra knows how to direct the script and then loses itself. It doesn’t even lose the realism as much as it loses the humanism. It loses the realism a bit… Walter Connelly, also great, plays Colbert’s father and he’s a little too Hollywood perfect for the film, especially since he becomes the main character for the last fifteen minutes. I understand why–to create a sense of suspense (It Happened One Night, for worse, seemingly created the romantic comedy model still used today)–but it’s totally inappropriate. When the film loses Gable as the protagonist, it’s essentially lost (never to find itself).
Capra does a great job–his composition is particularly exciting, as he plays with tight spaces and open ones. There’s barely any score and it’s all “natural” sounds, which works beautifully. He creates this usually quiet place for the story to unfold. Again, goes towards the realism.
I’ve only seen the film once before and had the same reaction, due to the misfire of an ending, so I wasn’t enraged (because I knew it was inevitable). But I imagine I’d be livid if it were my first viewing.
Directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Howard Jackson and Louis Silvers; produced by Capra and Harry Cohn; released by Columbia Picutres.
Starring Clark Gable (Peter Warne), Claudette Colbert (Ellie Andrews), Walter Connolly (Alexander Andrews), Roscoe Karns (Oscar Shapeley), Jameson Thomas (King Westley), Alan Hale (Danker), Arthur Hoyt (Zeke), Blanche Friderici (Zeke’s wife) and Charles C. Wilson (Joe Gordon).