Frank Capra won an Oscar for directing It Happened One Night, penned by Robert Riskin (who also won an Oscar, as did the film) from a short story, “Night Bus,” by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert—both Oscared for their most charming, fullest, most vulnerable performances—play newspaperman Peter Warne and Ellie Andrews, both traveling incognito on a bus that is otherwise teeming with raucous humanity, defiant in the face of the Great Depression. Warne hides his identity from Ellie because he hopes to scoop the story of her flight from her rich businessman father (Walter Connolly, wonderful) and new husband, aviator King Westley. Peter has recognized the spoiled heiress for who she is—and Ellie is hiding her identity not to be recognized by anybody. Wouldn’t you know that the two fall in love with each other? This changes Peter’s plans for “using” Ellie, who nonetheless, when she learns who Peter is, sees him as a mercenary chasing a paycheck and the reward that her father has offered for her return.
In the course of this mellow though sparkling road comedy (which includes the most brilliantly funny hitch-hiking scene ever), gleamingly photographed by Joseph Walker, the pair of would-be lovers mask their reality and accommodate American moralism by pretending to be husband and wife: what, in fact, they increasingly want to be. At night, the “Walls of Jericho”—a blanket over a rope stretched and tied high and across the room—hang between them as each occupies a separate motel bed, enshrining propriety, loneliness. At the last, in a tickling, powerful scene, the Walls of Jericho come ceremoniously tumbling down, but between social classes as well as between sexual/moralistic inhibitions. It is a visual/symbolical variation on the American Dream.
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