29 April 2009

59. It Happened One Night

Those old classical Hollywood comedies look so easy, so effortless that we quickly dismiss them. We shouldn't. While it might seem old-fashioned now, this film basically invented the romantic comedy road trip movie and did it better than pretty much any other in that genre. They "meet cute" on the bus, and instantly we see they are an odd couple. We're not stupid -- we know they are going to get together. How? By inches -- he's a newspaper man, so he decides to skip the bus she missed to get her story. In his gruff manner, he tries to show her the way of a middle-class man: how to dunk a donut, how to hitchhike. Especially in regards to hitchhiking, she can teach him a little something herself.

One thing that particularly sets this movie apart is it's social significance. Like the modern-day "Medicine for Melancholy", we realize with this movie that a love story doesn't need to eschew society. Here we see, in the first words spoken, an acknowledgment of the Great Depression: "Hunger strike, eh? How long has this been going on?" Colbert's father is oblivious, and she decides to free herself from her sheltered life. Like an Okie, she goes on the road, living like the other half in motor-lodges, traveling in crowded buses, pinching pennies and waking up hungry. So we like her.

Mostly what I would like to say is this: just because a movie is from the 30's and in black and white with old-fashioned acting doesn't mean you should change the channel. We can learn a lot from these old movies, maybe this above all: you can make a movie that means something and have it be entertaining at the same time. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.