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From the film archives: 'It Happened One Night' an iconic romantic comedy
Claudette Colbert stars with Clark Gable as Ellie Andrews and Peter Warne in the 1934 film “It Happened One Night.” Both actors won Academy Awards for their portrayals in the film. - photo by Associated Press

‘It Happened One Night’

Starring: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable, Walter Connolly and Jameson Thomas

Running time: 105 minutes

Rated: Unrated

With the 2015 Academy Awards falling only eight days after Valentine’s Day, it is a great time to revisit one of the best romantic films from early Hollywood.

When it comes to movies, “It Happened One Night” is one of the original romantic comedies. Released in 1934, it is chock-full of jokes and jabs while maintaining an endearing love story. It garnered widespread popularity and became the first movie to win all of the “Big Five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. This feat has only been accomplished by two other movies: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975 and “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991.

The story centers on the love life of the affluent socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), who recently married the pilot King Westley (Jameson Thomas). Andrews’ father, a wealthy banker who disapproves of the marriage, confines her to a boat off the coast of Florida while he attempts to nullify the union.

In a fit of frustration, Andrews dives into the ocean and swims to shore. Avoiding her father’s agents and those seeking a $10,000 bounty for her return, Andrews begins making her way to New York City to reunite with her husband.

While riding the night bus to New York, she runs into the recently unemployed reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who soon figures out her secret. After a few back and forth retorts about Andrews’ spoiled attitude, Warne gives her an ultimatum: either she give him an exclusive story about her plight, which has become a national obsession, or he will turn her over to her father.

Andrews agrees, albeit reluctantly, and the two set out for New York under the guise of a married couple. From the outset, the two run into roadblocks, both figuratively and literally. Andrews losses her luggage along with most of her money, the two get left by the bus after she insists the driver should wait on her to run errands at a rest stop, and the two are forced to flee through the woods after a fellow bus passenger discovers Andrews’ identity.

Left near penniless on the side of the road, the couple attempts to hitchhike. This episode leads to the film’s most iconic scene. After Warne fails multiple times to flag down a passing car, Andrews secures a ride by hiking up her skirt and exposing her curvaceous leg to an oncoming driver. This scene eventually became a Hollywood symbol and has been parodied in countless films and television shows.

Along the way, Warne and Andrews are forced to share struggles and bedrooms, though they slept in separate beds divided a bed sheet hanging from a rope. Eventually the couple get over their comedic spats and feuds and Andrews realizes she has fallen in love with the scrappy newspaperman. After she confesses her love, Warne steals away in the middle of the night to ask for an advance on his story so he can afford to propose.

In comedic fashion, Andrews is awoken and believes Warne has abandoned her to seek reward money from her father. She turns herself in and her father is so relieved to have her back safely that he consents to her marriage to Westley.

Warne, confused by Andrews’ marriage plans, abandons his ideas of proposal and instead seeks reimbursement for expenses from her father. Andrews, likewise confused, confides in her father that she still loves Warne, but she thinks he despises her. In an unexpected show of compassion, Andrews’ father encourages her to follow her heart. I won’t spoil the details, but eventually everything is resolved and romance triumphs.

“It Happened One Night” is a lovable movie and the actors play each part perfectly.

Its only major detraction is the many movies that have imitated it throughout the years. Romantic comedies are so common this film loses some of its charm through no fault of its own. However, “It Happened One Night” is still a far more enjoyable experience than its successors.

“It Happened One Night” is available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99-$12.99 or free for Amazon Prime members.

Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times.

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