Saturday, February 27, 2010

Movie: It Happened One Night

The movie:
Once upon a time in 1934 there was a director with a script seeking to make a movie. The director, Frank Capra, approached various actors and actresses to star in his movie but without any luck:
- Robert Montgomery: worst script I have ever read, no, thanks;
- Myrna Loy - a recent film set on a bus failed and so will this one, no, thanks;
- Margaret Sullavan - no, thanks;
- Miriam Hopkins - no, thanks;
- Constance Bennett - I’ll do it if I can also be the producer (Columbia Pictures: no, thanks);
- Bette Davis - I’ll do it if Warners will lend me to you (Warner Brothers: no, thanks);
- Carole Lombard - I can’t, I’m tied up filming Bolero;
- Loretta Young - no, thanks.
Ultimately Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable were cast in the main roles.

Colbert was less than enthusiastic. She had once made a movie with Capra that bombed and had sworn to never work with him again. She was persuaded by her salary being doubled to $50,000 and the promise that filming would be completed in 4 weeks so that she could take the holiday that she had booked. Apparently she remained grumpy during filming and at the end of shooting stated “I just finished the worst picture in the world.”

Gable was under contract to MGM which did not have a pic ready for him. It was paying him $2,000 a week to do nothing so it loaned him to Columbia for $2,500 per week. His comment when he turned up for the first day was “Let’s get this over with.”
The movie that no one wanted turned into a smash hit and was the first to pick up the Oscar grand slam, the 5 major Oscars: Best Movie, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay, a feat not repeated until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Colbert was so certain that she would not win that she did not attend, preferring instead to get on the train to start her holiday. When it was known that she had won, she was dragged off the train to the awards, where she made her acceptance speech in her travelling clothes.

The story:

Spoiled, Paris Hilton type heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries “King” Westley, a fortune hunter, against the wishes of her father. Her father takes her away before the marriage is consummated but she flees and gets on a bus to New York. Her father publicly offers a large reward for her return. A fellow passenger and reporter, Peter Warne (Clark Gable) recognises her. He agrees to help her get to NY in return for an exclusive story. From there on the pic becomes a road movie. They fall in love but get separated, each believing that the other has left and each thereby ending up hurt and bitter. Returned home, Ellie decides to go through with a formal wedding to King Westley. As the wedding is about to take place, Peter Warne meets up with Ellie’s father demanding that they settle financially. He rejects the offered reward and insists only that he be paid $39.60, the expenses he paid for Ellie on the trip. He admits he loves Ellie. As Ellie’s father is walking her down the aisle, he tells her what he found out about Peter, encourages her to run off again and says that there is a car waiting for her. She does so and runs to Peter. Ellie’s father pays of King Westley who agrees to have the marriage annulled.

Movie trivia:

- Various characters in this movie were the inspiration for later Looney Tunes characters:
Bugs Bunny was based on the personality of the character in the movie, Oscar` Shapely; on Peter Warne’s eating carrots and talking quickly while doing so; and on the imaginary character mentioned in the movie by Peter Warne, “Bugs Dooley”.
The movie character Alexander Andrews was the inspiration for Yosemite Sam.
The movie character King Westley was the inspiration for Pepe LePew.

- The idea of the “Walls of Jericho” came about because Claudette Colbert refused to undress in front of the cameras.

- When shooting the scene where he is undressing whilst talking, Cable had trouble removing his singlet and keeping the humorous patter going. He therefore dispensed with the singlet and took off his shirt to reveal a bare chest. This was adopted by the male public and singlet sales dropped substantially.

- The title of the movie is a puzzle: the movie takes place over a couple of nights and none are essential to the plot.

Selected scene:

One scene that everyone remembers is the hitchhike scene.

It is a scene from a simpler period. A woman doing the same today would be extremely foolish and probably of questionable virtue.

In the movie, Peter Warne expounds on hitchhiking techniques, holding himself out to be an expert on the subject. He fails miserably, causing Ellie to try.

From the film script:

She lifts her skirt to above her knees and pretends to be fixing her garter. Her very attractive leg is in full display. Almost instantly, we hear the screaming and grinding of quickly applied brakes and Peter looks up astonished. The scene wiping off, we then get a closer view of Ellie and Peter sitting in the back of an open Ford. It is a broken-down, rickety affair of the 1920 vintage. Ellie grins victoriously up at Peter, who stares ahead of him, glumly.

ELLIE You might give me a little credit.
PETER What for?
ELLIE I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
PETER Why didn't you take all your clothes off? You could have stopped forty cars.
ELLIE We don't need forty cars.

The above dialogue is missing from the film clip, which can be viewed at:

During filming Claudette Colbert refused to lift her skirt for the scene. When she saw a showgirl standing in for her doing it she exclaimed “That is not my leg” and then did the scene.
Claudette Colbert died in 1996 aged 92.

Bonus Trivia:
Despite Claudette Colbert's reticence to undress in front of the camera for It Happened One Night and her original reluctance to lift her skirt for the hitchhike scene, some two years earlier she had no such qualms about appearing naked in a bath of asses milk (yuck!) in the movie The Sign of the Cross.  Following is a still from that movie sequence:

Complaints as to increasing movie decadence and movie star immorality, coupled with a number of Hollywood scandals including the death of Virginia Rappe at a Fatty Arbuckle sex party and the subsequent trial of Arbuckle, had resulted in the introduction of a set of industry regulation guidelines.  This self censorship, known as the Motion Picture Production Code or more commonly the Hays Code, governed movie releases from 1930 to 1968.  The years 1930-1934, depression years, saw little application of the Code and the production of films which pushed the boundaries as people faced hard economic times.  Claudette Colbert's revealing bath in milk was used as an example of the decadence of Hollywood and lead to the enforcement of the Code from 1934.  From that year until 1968, all pictures released needed a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration.  With increasing challeneges, the Code became unworkable and was dropped in 1968, being  replaced by a film rating system in 1969.

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