Director Frank Capra, whose best known film is perhaps It's a Wonderful Life, was born on this day in 1897. Some film historians credit Capra with the invention of the romantic comedy film in 1934: It Happened One Night. The film was the first (and one of the few) to win Oscars in the five major categories: Director, Picture, Actress, Actor, and Screenplay.
It's difficult for me to say much about It Happened One Night because it's such a landmark film that it feels like everything has already been said. If you've seen it, you don't need me to tell you about the wonderful dialogue ("Do you love her?" "Yes, but don't hold it against me. I'm a little screwy myself!"), Clark Gable with his shirt off, Claudette Colbert in men's pajamas, the iconic hitchhiking scene, or Walter Connolly's amusing performance as Colbert's father. If you haven't seen the movie, you've probably seen dozens of movies it influenced, particularly the climactic scene at the wedding. (Some theorize that the movie inspired Fritz Freleng in creating Bugs Bunny.) And if you haven't seen it, you're probably allergic to romantic comedy and don't want to hear much about it -- too bad for you. I first saw this movie in college, at a theater showing classic movies at the end of the semester for 25 cents admission (the long-gone Varsity Theater in Baton Rouge). I fell in love with it instantly and just looking at the above photo makes me want to see the movie again. If you're fond of Thirties movies, It Happened One Night makes a great double-feature paired with another film from the same year, Twentieth Century: both movies share several character actors, and you can argue afterwards about which film was actually the first romantic comedy.