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Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Romance On the Road

The romantic comedy is one of those Hollywood creatures that we all love to hate. It tends to follow a specific formula, so it's predictable. You pretty much know how the film is going to end by looking at the movie poster. It's usually an opportunity for the studio to showcase the flavor or flavors-of-the-moment - generally actors who are gaining some notoriety in a television drama or who sparkled in a supporting role in another major film. Soap stars will often appear in mindless television romantic comedies in an effort to break out of daytime drama. I'll just say it, most romantic comedies are awful.
However, when they're good, they're very good. I'm thinking of films like When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Murphy's Romance, The Shop Around the Corner and its modern re-make You've Got Mail.
Today's Friday Film Buff selection is, in my opinion, the romantic comedy that set the stage for all romantic comedies to follow - both the good and the bad.

It Happened One Night has a dashing and rugged leading man with a quick wit in Clark Gable, a beautiful and charming leading lady with a sharp tongue in Claudette Colbert, and a recipe for romance that is still shamelessly copied to this day. A beautiful heiress is traveling incognito from Miami to New York City. An ace reporter has uncovered her identity but agrees to help her get to New York for the promise of an exclusive. They hate each other, but they're stuck together. Let the sparks fly!
This is my favorite from director Frank Capra, and I think it's a terrific "time capsule" of American film. This is before World War II and before Gone With the Wind. The "rules" of film-making were still being written.
One thing that the Zucker brothers and company did to my generation is the heavy "spoofing" of many classic films. I was just talking to a friend  a couple of weeks ago about how it's hard to watch the beach scene in From Here to Eternity without giggling because it's been lampooned so many times. It seems cliché now, even in the movie that bore the cliché!
It Happened One Night does not seem to suffer from this. Even though many of the elements of this film have been turned into clichés in other films, they seem just as fun and fresh today as they were in 1934.
If you're making a Valentine's Day movie-viewing list, make sure this one is on it.

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