A woman desperate to escape and rebel from the shackles that her family and the socioeconomic position has been placed on her, and a man down on his luck as he wraps himself in pride and refuses to entirely acknowledge the errors of his ways that led him to the recent termination of his job. Ellie and Peter’s lives would ultimately intersect in a bus that would take them to New York, the former hoping to be reunited with her husband, whom she previously eloped with that led to her father becoming absurdly protective and stubborn, while the latter aims to return to the city hoping that he could ask for his job back, whilst never actively admitting, to the audience or Ellie, that he would stoop to such a level.
Though both are passengers in this bus heading towards their specific goals, their initial intentions are merely MacGuffins that would help stimulate and explore their relationship, in which they initially interact with palpable tension, both meeting at a point in their journeys where they want to be personally alone. In their forced space, they begin to learn from one another, realising the necessity of the other in completing their personal goals, Ellie to safely arrive in New York while Peter earning himself the story of a lifetime.
Regarded as one of the true pioneers of the screwball comedy genre, It Happened One Night thrives on the contrasts that it applies on it’s leading characters, with socioeconomic and gender friction that consistently separates them physically, Peter constantly belittling Ellie’s value due to her wealth and recklessness, while Ellie occasionally disproves some of Peter’s egotistical theories that once again bruises his pride. However, emotionally, their shared time together begins to create attachment and affections that realise the beauty and warmth of the other and thus compelling us to root for them by its end.
Frank Capra, the director who has brought us beloved cinematic treasures like It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr Smith Goes to Washington, is one who is deeply rooted in American soil, despite his Sicilian heritage. He demonstrates awareness of the human condition and the political-social-economical environment that surrounds them. It Happened One Night does not, in its forefront, comment on the economic downturn of the 1930s, but rather allow it to be a palpable presence that surrounds and define these characters, even in the most subtle of details, and doing so while ensuring that what the audience are seeing are realised characters, rather than just thematic symbols.
This film has become the staple for screwball comedies and its influence has radiated to the works of modern mainstream cinema. It features a wonderful duo of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, it carries a constant energy of verbal banter and slapstick, and amusing pit-stops that develop the characters and put their relationship to the test; now that is what I call a magnificent formula.