It happened to be a hit!

Frank Capra read the story by chance and turned it into a blockbuster.

Published - September 11, 2014 06:30 pm IST

Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in 'It Happened One Night.'

Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in 'It Happened One Night.'

While having a haircut in a Los Angeles saloon, maestro moviemaker Frank Capra read a short story in the Cosmopolitan magazine titled ‘Night Bus’ by the American writer Samuel Hopkins Adams. Capra was under contract with Harry Cohn’s Columbia Pictures, which was then known as ‘Poverty Row studio.’ He bought the story for filming.

The hot headed producer Harry Cohn (known as ‘King Cohn!’) told Capra, “Oh, no. not another bus movie!” But gave him the green signal.

At first, it had no title and was a mere production number on the clap board. Capra approached the popular star of Columbia, Claudette Colbert, to play the female lead. Initially, she refused as her earlier film directed by him had bombed at the box office. Ultimately, she signed on the dotted line.

Next, Capra approached the ‘King of Hollywood,’ Clark Gable. At that time, the star had been suspended by MGM. Without bothering to read the script, Gable agreed to do it. ‘It Happened One Night’ turned out to be a box office bonanza of 1930s and won five Oscars! A strong-headed rich heir (Colbert) walks out of her marriage and boards a night bus without knowing its destination. Meanwhile, her father releases a ‘Missing’ press ad with her picture.

Seated in the bus is an out-of-work journalist (Gable), whose editor told him that he would get his job back if he came up with a good story. He realises he has struck gold when he recognises the ‘missing’ heiress. He gets friendly with her, using the threat that he will inform her father about her whereabouts. She plays along. The story, with its twists and turns, ends on a happy note as they fall in love and marry.

Two sequences shocked the audiences of that time. In one, the pair is trying to thumb a lift. When Gable fails, she lifts her dress thigh-high bringing the first passing car to a screeching halt. In the second scene, they are in a motel room at night. They share a bed with a curtain hanging between them, which expectedly falls. Gable, undressed for the night, is bare-chested! According to Hollywood legend, sales of undershirts dropped like autumn leaves after this sequence!

The screenplay was by Robert Riskin, who had collaborated with Capra on many of his movies. Capra also produced it along with Harry Cohn.

When first released, it did not create a splash. But when released in small towns and secondary theatres, thanks to word-of-mouth publicity, it turned out to be the biggest hit in the history of Columbia.

It won Oscars for ‘Best Picture,’ ‘Best Actor (Gable),’ ‘Best Actress (Colbert),’ ‘Best Director (Capra),’ and ‘Best Screenplay-Adaptation (Riskin),’ a record, which remained unbroken until 1975.

On the Oscar Awards Day, Colbert, who never dreamt that she would get the Best Actress Award, had already booked herself on a train and was at the Los Angeles’ Union Station When her name was announced at the Awards function, Frank Capra and the producers sent a man to the railway station. She was pulled out of the train, which was about to leave. Since there was no time to change, she landed up at the event in her travelling dress.

This film inspired many remakes in India. It was made in Hindi as ‘Chori , ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi’ and ‘Nau Do Gyarah ‘( Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik,), in Kannada as ‘Hudugaata’ and in Tamil ‘Chandrodhayam’ with M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalitha. All were hits.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrated the 80th anniversary of this iconic movie on July 18. The special screening marked the world premiere of a new digital restoration of the classic comedy of 1934.

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