Call it a cinematic convergence — those rare occurrences in Hollywood when things come together both in front of and behind the camera to create a true classic.
Frank Capra's breezy 1934 romantic comedy "It Happened One Night" is one of those moments. "It Happened One Night" was the first film to sweep the five major Academy Awards categories — winning best picture (the first comedy to achieve the honor) as well as director for Frank Capra, lead actor for Clark Gable, lead actress for Claudette Colbert and adapted screenplay for Robert Riskin.
The film helped launch the legendary career of Capra, who would go on to win directing Oscars for 1936's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and 1938's "You Can't Take It With You," and boosted the stock of Harry Cohn's Columbia Pictures, which before "It Happened One Night" was primarily known for low-budget "Poverty Row" pictures.
"Night" also ushered in the fast-paced, frenzied screwball-comedy genre which became enormously popular during the Great Depression
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is celebrating the 80th anniversary of "It Happened One Night" Saturday evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The special screening will feature the world premiere of a new digital restoration of the classic comedy.
"This is a comedy that even though it's 80 years old still plays to modern audiences," said Randy Haberkamp, the academy's managing director of programming, education and preservation. "It's one of those films where you enjoy the two stars playing with each other and really believably falling in love."
The sparkling comedy finds Colbert playing the spoiled runaway heiress Ellie and Gable as a rapscallion newspaper reporter Peter, who find themselves traveling together on an interstate bus. Along the way, Peter shows Ellie the proper way out to dunk doughnuts, how he undresses for bed and even what he thinks is the surefire way to hitchhike by using his thumb. In one of the movie's signature scenes, Ellie shows him that a hitchhiker willing to show a bit of leg is much more effective.
There's also "The Walls of Jericho," which is how Peter describes the blanket hanging over a clothesline dividing their hotel room. The "Walls" eventually topple. And the film even caused the undergarment industry to worry that men would no longer buy undershirts because Gable didn't wear one in the movie.
Ironically, because Columbia wasn't in the same league with such studios as MGM and Paramount, casting had been difficult for the film. Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy, both at MGM, had turned it down. And Gable and Colbert weren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of making a lightweight comedy.
Hollywood lore has it that that MGM's Louis B. Mayer lent Gable to Columbia as punishment for the actor asking for a salary raise. But that really wasn't the case. Gable had a hole in his schedule, so Mayer allowed Cohn to use the rising star. Colbert, who was at Paramount, asked for a lot of money and got it from the usually penny-pinching Columbia.
The original nitrate negative of "It Happened One Night" was in poor condition because the release prints had been made from the element. But at least Sony still had the negative. Other Capra films haven't fared as well. The original negatives for Capra's 1937 classic "Lost Horizon" and 1938's "You Can't Take it With You" no longer exist, said Rita Belda, vice president, asset management and film restoration for Sony Pictures Entertainment.
For the digital restoration, a new film element was created from the original negative and that was scanned to use for this restoration. "
The new element was used for the majority of this restoration, but material from a nitrate print in their vaults was used for other frames that had were missing from the original negative. Dust, scratches and tears were removed digitally but without altering the film's original look.