Claudette Colbert, medium-charming, is paired with Fred MacMurray at his most eagerly straightforward, in a fish-out-of-water movie of cityfolk going country, most famous for creating the oversized characters of Ma & Pa Kettle. There were at least ten more Kettle films plus a TV remake of this movie.

They get a dog, fall in the pigpen, clean up the farmhouse, struggle to impress an implacable chicken buyer, get charity from the bighearted locals, never have any romantic time alone, and endure every first-draft farm-life idea the screenwriters could throw at them. It’s all overstuffed quantity-over-quality, like the breakfast restaurant that stole its name. Fred is seemingly sweet on the rich neighbor (Louise Allbritton of Son of Dracula), leading Claudette to preemptively leave him, but really he’s secretly negotiating to trade in their failing and wrecked farm for her fancy automated one (economics make no sense in this film).

Claudette and the eldest Kettle kid in their fancy plaids:

Weirdly, for one of the best romantic comedies of all time, I had much trouble remembering this a couple weeks later and had to look up the TCM synopsis – unlike The Good Fairy and Roman Holiday and High Society and What a Way to Go!, which I recalled as well as I ever do. So I’d better watch this again sometime.

Anyway, heiress Claudette Colbert (between Lubitsch films The Smiling Lieutenant and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife) is on the run from her overdetermined life and meets chivalrous Clark Gable on the bus. He’s a reporter who agrees to help her if he gets an exclusive story – shades of Roman Holiday – but unlike that movie, this is one of the madcap screwball comedies where writing out the plot would take longer than rewatching the movie – the gist being that the two of them fall gradually in love after spending much travel time together, and she finally flees her society wedding to stay with Gable.

Unhappy bride:

Criterion ad copy: “The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon and featuring two actors at the top of their game.”

S. Winer:

That first autobus ride is clearly an alien experience for the heiress, who has until this point remained unaware of the greater world around her. At first, she is uncomfortable with her fellow passengers, but eventually she joins them in song and then feels sympathetic pain for the plight of a mother and son who don’t have enough to eat. (Explicitly here, and implicitly throughout the film, Capra is making a brave choice for a romantic comedy by telling us that this is no movie fairyland but very real Depression America — where buses might serve those who could no longer afford cars and hitchhiking those who could afford neither.)

F. Nehme:

In what must be the movie’s most famous scene (although it has a lot of competition), Pete demonstrates, at length and with a fantastic amount of condescension, the proper way to hitchhike: “It’s all in the thumb.” Ellie, splendidly deadpan, watches an entire traffic jam’s worth of cars zip by Pete and his magic thumb, then slinks over and lifts her hem to reveal one of the loveliest legs in movie history. Cut to slamming brakes, then the couple in the rumble seat of a car. But here’s the thing: The man who has stopped (played by Alan Hale) turns out to be a road thief, bent on stealing their remaining suitcase. For all Ellie’s triumph, the creep was looking for a mark, and probably would have stopped in any event.

“The class of people who comes here seems to get worse every year… and this year we seem to have next year’s crowd already.” Lubitsch movies always have such great dialogue, but he didn’t write ’em and English wasn’t his first language, so why is it?

It was a bad week for staying awake all the way through movies. Shout out to Gold Diggers of 1933 (I hardly remember anything) and Ninotchka (some awful Russian spies who reminded me of the encyclopedaeists in Ball of Fire were cashing in when I checked out), both of which Katy finished after I’d fallen asleep, and Hollywood Canteen which she didn’t feel like finishing after it got repetitive (army man and buddies are fawned over by actors, including huge star Joan Leslie (who? the girl from Yankee Doodle Dandy?)). I liked this one the most, at least its first half, so I came back the next day to watch the ending.


Opens with a racy scene about sleeping in and out of pajamas. Bank owner, cheapskate and stickler for everything Gary Cooper meets Claudette Colbert whose father the marquis is trying to hold onto his status despite being flat broke. CC falls for Gary and they’re to be married when he confesses he’s had seven ex-wives. Angry as hell, she signs a lucrative pre-nup agreement, marries Gary then spends his money while trying her best to provoke a divorce. Hilarity ensues.


Gary Cooper’s gruff phonetic pronunciation of French words adds to the humor. He’s actually not bad as a comic actor. Apparently a remake of a Gloria Swanson silent film. That’s David Niven on the beach above as Colbert’s friend (and a bank employee) whom Colbert sets up as a fall guy in her divorce plot. And the great E. Everett Horton as the marquis. Great looking movie with a perfect cast.

The 30’s were full of Ruggles: Charlie Ruggles, Wesley Ruggles, Ruggles of Red Gap… you don’t hear about Ruggles anymore. A shame, for the most part, but I’d be glad not to hear from this particular Ruggles anymore (although I’m likely to catch I’m No Angel or Too Many Husbands eventually). The movie had a good premise and stars, but writer Claude Binyon (Holiday Inn) and Mr. Ruggles tried everything they could to ruin it with crappy dialogue and pacing.

Claudette Colbert takes a solo vacation to Paris, fleeing simple, earnest boyfriend Lee Bowman (who was he in Love Affair? Must have been Chuck Boyer’s friend/agent), but runs into relentless playboy Robert Young (The Canterville Ghost, Fritz Lang’s Western Union) and his reluctant, sarcastic friend Melvyn Douglas (Ninotchka, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House). Bland dialogue ensues, in which Melvyn says something that’s supposed to be witty but isn’t actually witty because of the writer’s limitations, and Claudette, annoyed, tells him he is too sarcastic, phrasing it the same way each time.

They go off to Switzerland (IMDB says it was really Idaho) for a ski vacation, leading to the only exciting scene, in which Claudette gets caught on a bobsled run. A movie’s not a romantic comedy unless she ends up with a guy, and Robert Young turns out to be married. Lee Bowman tracks her down in Switzerland, but she determines that this makes him paranoid, not romantic (a fine distinction), and anyway she didn’t meet him in Paris, so according to the title she must end up with Melvyn, and so she does.

Claudette Colbert (pre-Palm Beach Story) is half broke, flees Monte Carlo for Paris then, stalked by her cab driver Don Ameche (who had the same mustache 50 years later in Coming To America), wins an awful lot of money on the craps table and loses it all a few seconds later.


Now truly broke, she sneaks into a fancy dinner party and hides in the back room playing cards, catching the eye of John Barrymore, five years after Twentieth Century and just as insane and hilarious in this one, but in a much quieter way, acting mostly with his eyes. As his cheating wife, Mary Astor is as comfortable acting rich and desirable as she is in The Palm Beach Story, but she’s less loopy here.


In fact, the whole atmosphere is quieter and less loopy than most so-called screwball comedies. Maybe the writers intended for this film to have more energy, more of a visual punch. I’m not sure, but Leisen’s (mis)treatment of Billy Wilder’s script caused an exasperated Wilder to become a director himself with The Major and The Minor – the same thing that happened a couple years earlier with Preston Sturges (Leisen’s Easy Living -> Sturges’s The Great McGinty). Can’t say that I see Wilder’s problem… the movie is pretty wonderful.


Barrymore is on to Colbert’s ruse, so he hires her to seduce his wife’s boyfriend away from her, in a comic-but-touching attempt to save his marriage. She pretty much succeeds, but Don Ameche holds a city-wide manhunt to find her and somehow they end up together because stalking = romance in early Hollywood cinema.

They’re not major characters – I just liked the hat:

A la Easy Living, it’s a movie where a regular girl is picked off the street and showered with money and nice clothes by a millionaire. Katy loves when that happens.

David Boxwell is comparing it to Rules of the Game:

In both films, the aristocrats walk away from the convulsive messes they make; but Midnight ultimately valorizes, in a predictable way for a Hollywood film, the ’30s populism embodied in Don Ameche’s character, the taxi driver Tibor Czerny. The film endorses the entrepreneur who arises from the working classes, since Tibor rejects whatever aristocratic heritage he has and is content to hustle just enough business to live happily. Indeed, it’s difficult to remember that he isn’t American, and Ameche, like the other American actors playing Europeans, makes no effort to adopt a foreign accent. And this being screwball comedy, Midnight lauds his eventual mastery over the knowing, independent, rootless American ‘gold-digger,’ whose material acquisitiveness sets the film’s comic plot spinning into high gear. …

The ease with which Midnight resolves the conflicts it sets in motion stands in stark contrast to the traumas of expulsion and death endured by some of the characters in Renoir’s film. In effect, if both films are ultimately about the degree to which a culture has the confidence to survive the inevitable upheaval of war, Midnight is an optimistic fantasy reassuring audiences of the superiority of American culture, however much it’s displaced onto a Europe that really consists of the process photography of a tourist’s Paris and some plaster Art Deco sets on the Paramount lot.

An update of one of my earliest entries. Practically all I wrote last time was “funniest movie ever, when drinking.”

Stubborn failed inventor Joel McRea (fresh off Sullivan’s Travels) is in love with his wife Claudette Colbert (puffy-cheeked oscar-winner, played the modern girlfriend in The Smiling Lieutenant). Thanks to a random cash infusion by the Weenie King (below), she’s able to leave him and go searching for a new husband, a rich one, so she can support Joel’s ridiculous airplane net idea.

Along the way she meets… William “Muggsy” Demarest!

And other members of the Ale & Quail club, who torment her until she almost crawls into bed with this extremely rich Rockefeller stand-in (played by former megaphone crooner Rudy Vallee, who would appear in two more Sturges movies)

Ah, but Joel also got random cash from the Weenie King and flew down to intercept her. He’s caught in a web of lies and ends up an object of lust of Rudy’s flighty sister Mary Astor (who was on a roll, having just won an oscar and starred in The Maltese Falcon)

Toto ain’t too happy with this, since he was after Mary Astor before Joel arrived.

Uh oh, Joel and Claudette are still in love. How can we keep nice rich guy Rudy from being disappointed and keep our happy-again couple from returning to their life of poverty?

Easy: Joel and Claudette are both identical twins, and their twins marry the lusty megawealthy siblings for an extremely goofy happy ending!

Katy wasn’t too sure about the goofy happy ending, because she’s unable to be satisfied by any comedy that does not star Reese Witherspoon (see also My Man Godfrey). We both thought Joel needed to lighten up a bit. It’s hard to be the straight man.

Starring a broooadly overacting, hammy but kinda charismatic Maurice Chevalier as an Austrian lieutenant. Movie opens with a tailor knocking on Maurice’s door vainly attempting to collect on his bill (a year later, Maurice would star in Love Me Tonight as a tailor vainly attempting to collect on an aristocrat’s bill). Nobody answers, and immediately after he walks off, a young girl approaches the door, gives the secret knock and is let in. Yes, there’s actual sex in this movie – offscreen, but it’s acknowledged. It’s that Pre-Code Hollywood that TCM always salivates over before showing tame, dull movies like The Divorcee.

Maurice, a naughty lieutenant:

The movie is, as promised, a musical comedy (two genres which encourage broad acting) as well as a romantic drama, and the late 20’s/early 30’s had their share of hugely broad comedy performances in film, so in context Maurice is pretty alright. And he’s got kind of a charming, roguish smile on nearly all the time… sucked me in after about ten minutes. Katy disagrees, but liked the movie despite Maurice.

Maurice joins his friend Max to act as wingman so nervous, married Max can pick up a hot young violinist at the concert, but Maurice falls for the girl (Franzi) and takes her home himself, with some sexy banter about which meals they’ll enjoy together (ahem, breakfast).

Max, left, is Charles Ruggles, the viscount in Love Me Tonight, also in Trouble In Paradise. Chevalier was a big star from 1929-36 – then IMDB says he was falsely accused of being a nazi collaborator and his acting career was derailed for a buncha years, with a big comeback in Gigi in ’58.

Claudette Colbert (Franzi) was later Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra, also starred in It Happened One Night, Midnight, and The Palm Beach Story.

The young lovers have a good thing going, but flirting in public brings disaster, when Austrian soldier Maurice winks at Franzi across a street just as the coach carrying the king and princess of Flausenthurm drives between them. The wink and the princess’s appalled reaction are photographed and published in the paper, causing an international scandal, but everyone settles down when Maurice explains that he was overcome by the princess’s beauty and is bullied into agreeing to marry her. So M. is off to Flausenthurm, but won’t sleep with his royal bride, preferring to step out on the town. The moody king gets over the inferiority complex he had in Austria, is now smitten with Maurice and tells his daughter not to worry, playing checkers with her every night as a sad substitute for marital sex.

Princess Miriam Hopkins = Savannah-born star of Trouble in Paradise, who won an Oscar a few years later then didn’t do a whole lot of movies I’ve heard of. King George Barbier was in a ton of stuff through the 40’s, including The Milky Way and The Merry Widow.

The movie is a musical, but I don’t remember most of the songs or even where they occur, except climactic number “Jazz Up Your Lingerie.” You see, Maurice still loves the loose, free, totally modern Franzi, and he still has not-too-secret affairs with her since her violin group is on tour in Flausenthurm. So one day Princess Anna sorta kidnaps Franzi to ask her advice… Franzi helps Anna out, giving up on her man with the great line: “You mustn’t worry about me. I knew it all the time. Girls who start with breakfast don’t usually stay for supper.”


During the music number, Anna’s frumpy clothes all turn magically into hot things, she learns to smoke and play jazz on the piano, and when Maurice comes home he can not believe his eyes. She takes him to the bedroom and wordlessly suggests a game of checkers, but he keeps tossing the board away… finally tosses it onto the bed, and just look at the expressions on their faces:


Everyone who sees it today comments on the sexual freeness, but the original New York Times review in 1931 didn’t mention any of that, called it a “highly successful production” with “charming” music and “splendid” performances, and spoiled the entire plot.

J. Weinman: “The Smiling Lieutenant is based on Oscar Straus’s Viennese operetta A Waltz Dream, though Lubitsch relegated all the operetta’s songs to background music and had Straus write a few new songs in a more modern style. As he usually did when adapting a play or an operetta, Lubitsch kept the basic outline of the story but changed everything else.”