Friday , February 23 2024
This release won't bore you to distraction.

Blu-ray Review: ‘It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection’

Notable for being the first film to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, and the only one to hold that distinction until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Frank Capra’s delightful comedy It Happened One Night is about socialite Ellen Andrews (Claudette Colbert) traveling from Florida to New York so she can be reunited with her husband before her father can force an annulment.  After she gets stranded at a bus station, newspaper reporter Pete Warren (Clark Gable) offers his assistance on the condition he get to tell her exclusive story or he’ll go to her father; however, as happens in the movies, their plans change during the journey.

After arguing with her father over her elopement, Ellen shows her impetuousness by jumping off his boat and swimming away.  While she outsmarts her father’s hired hands and gets on a bus to New York, she shows her naiveté at traveling in this manner by getting her suitcase stolen and expecting a bus to wait on her.  Pete, who is heading home after recently being fired, recognizes Ellen and figures he can use her to get his job back.  Given no choice, she reluctantly agrees to keep Pete from telling her father.

Eventually Ellen’s father puts out a $10,000 reward, so they can no longer use a bus.  On the road, Pete intends to show Ellen how to hitchhike, which leads to the classic moment where she shows him it’s not the thumb that always gets results with drivers.  As they come to know each other, they grow attracted to each other.  Pete leaves her sleeping in a motel and she misunderstands the reason why.  Getting back to New York on her own, Ellen decides to stay with her husband and her father throws her formal wedding, but is she making the right choice?

Gable is known for his rugged charm and good looks, but he clearly shows a deft skill at comedy.  He should have done more of them.  Colbert is a good match for him as they verbally spar.  Based on the short story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams, Robert Riskin’s script offers a smart story and is filled with funny dialogue.  The expected plot twists for a romantic comedy like this are believable.  The characters’ decisions and reaction are believable and don’t feel forced.  Although the film isn’t as uplifting as some of his other notable films, Capra does a very capable job as director.

The video has been given a 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.  The liner notes in the foldout reveal: “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from a 35mm safety composite fine-grain made from the original nitrate negative and a 35mm nitrate print. The digital restoration was performed by the Prasad Group in Chennai, India.”

The blacks are rich and whites are frequently bright, creating a great spectrum of grays and strong contrast.  There’s grain throughout and whites bloom on occasion, which increases during scenes of low light and soft focus, as seen at the first bus stop.  The print looks free of damage and defect.

Also listed in the notes: “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original nitrate optical soundtrack and a 35mm nitrate print. The soundtrack was restored by Sony Pictures, with additional restoration by the Criterion Collection. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.”

The dialogue is clear but there’s a faint hiss from the source’s age.  Effects are solid.  The score is limited, mainly heard during the wedding scene as background music.

The supplements include with this release are:

Frank Capra Jr. Remembers…It Happened One Night (1080i/60, 11 min) — A 1999 interview where producer FC Jr tells stories about the making of the film and the response to it.

Screwball Comedy? (HD, 39 min) — Specially made for Criterion in August 2014, film critics  Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate have a conversation about the film and discuss whether it is a screwball comedy.  It’s interesting but a bit long-winded

Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House (HD, 12 min) — From 1921, Capra’s directorial debut is a short that brings to life Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House,” which appears superimposed on the screen.  It is presented with a new score composed and performed on piano by Donald Sosin.

Frank Capra’s American Dream (1080i/60, 96 min) —  Directed by Ken Bowser and hosted/narrated by Ron Howard, this 1997 biographical documentary tells the story of Capra’s life and career. Offering their thoughts about the man and his work are people such as Martin Scorsese, John Milius, Robert Altman, Michael Keaton, Richard Dreyfus, Angela Lansbury, Garry Marshall, Bill Duke, Richard Schickel, Oliver Stone, and Andre de Toth,

AFI’s Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Frank Capra (1080i/60, 59 min) — An edited version of this 1982 ceremony features Jimmy Stewart as host and a roster of speakers singings his praises that include Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Peter Falk, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Burgess Meredith, Fred MacMurray, Steve Martin, Donna Reed.

Trailer (HD, 1 min)

For those looking for a lighthearted comedy, It Happened One Night is a classic of the genre.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Founder and Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at

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