Gable and Colbert burn up the screen Historic gem for NWTC Film Club

July 24, 2015

1934 – what a year! At home, Don Bradman continued to torment English bowlers on the cricket field, Peter Pan won the second of his two Melbourne Cups, and, as everywhere else in the world, the great depression caused universal despair. To counter this, people turned their attention to sport, cinema and other similar diversions.

1934 was also the year of the first great blockbuster Hollywood motion picture. The film industry had made the transition from the silent era to the talkies, and impressive stables of big stars were being developed.

Leading Producer and Director Frank Capra was inspired to bring to the screen the novel “Night Bus”. It would become the first of the now common genre of “road movies”. Capra offered the leading male role to Robert Montgomery, who turned it down because he felt the script “too weak”. Enter Clark Gable – a rising young Hollywood actor, soon to be classed among the screen greats, who accepted the role of Peter Warne.

The female lead was turned down by quite a number of actresses, none of whom liked the script, before Capra offered the part of Ellie Andrews to Claudette Colbert. The screen siren had sworn never to work with Capra again after their last film was a disaster, but reluctantly took the part when her salary was doubled to $50,000 (this WAS 1934!) and a promise was extracted to limit filming to one month so she could take a long planned vacation. Even when filming was completed, Colbert confided to a close friend “I have just made the worst film ever!" This may well have explained Colbert’s frequent tantrums on set.

It was not a promising start to what was to become a screen classic.

“It Happened One Night” opened in February 1934 to sound reviews, but struggled to make an impact at the box office until released to the secondary regional and country cinemas, where people empathized with the plot. Word of mouth suddenly turned ticket sales ballistic.

The film’s popularity only increased following the 1934 Academy Awards, when “It Happened One Night” became the first motion picture in history to win the “big five” – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Only “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” (1975) and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) have achieved this since.

“It Happened One Night” tells the story of spoiled heiress Ellen Andrews (Colbert), who has eloped with a fortune-hunting neer-do-well against the wishes of her father, a wealthy tycoon with a very expensive yacht. Ellie runs away and boards a bus to New York to reunite with her soon-to-be spouse. During the trip she encounters out-of-work newspaper reported Peter Warne (Gable), and the experiences they share on this journey provide the basis for a very funny story.

It is really pleasing that the NWTC Film Club can make these cinematic gems available – “It Happened One Night is sheer motion picture history.

Clark Gable was soon to become known as “The King of Hollywood”. He had begun his career as an extra in silent movies between 1924 and 1926, but with the “talkies” he came into his own. His Academy Award for “It Happened One Night” gave his career real impetus, and he was to receive Oscar nominations later for “Mutiny on the Bounty” and the role for which he is best remembered – that of Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind”. Gable made his final film in 1961 in “The Misfits” alongside Marilyn Monroe (it was also her final film), and Montgomery Clift.

Claudette Colbert, a French-born actress who was the first woman born outside North America to win an Oscar, was similarly prominent. She also was to receive a further two Academy Award nominations before moving to the stage and television.

‘It Happened One Night” is highly recommended as a part of film history. It runs for 105 minutes and is rated G for General Exhibition. Sign up for the Super Six!

NWTC Film Club has 6 wonderful films remaining in the 2015 program. Following “It Happened One Night” we have “Chariots of Fire” (August), “Monsieur Lazhar” (September), “Topkapi” (October), “The Artist” (November), and the President’s Pick (December). All these films can be seen for only $30. The films are all introduced, and drinks and nibblies follow.

This is great value for any movie-lover. Taking out membership is easy – the Visitor Information Centre can process it on the spot, or simply turn up at the Roxy at 4pm on the last Sunday of each month.