This year marks the 75th anniversary of It Happened One Night, the wonderfully fizzy Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert starrer from 1934. Directed by Frank Capra, this was a Code-flaunting sweet-tart of a screwball comedy, and the Academy responded in kind; along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs, Night is one of only three films to win the "Big Five" categories at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Director).
This week, the Reelist pays tribute to one of the best movies of all time with a list of other romantic comedy classics that go down like a gulp of champage on a starlit night. If you haven't seen any of these flicks, grab your best guy or girl and get thee to Netflix (or, preferably, your local indie video store). A swell date night is guaranteed.
(Apologies to My Man Godfrey, The Philadelphia Story, and the reigning iconic comedies of the 70s and 80s—Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally, respectively—those choices are being saved for another go-round. Besides, we're sure you've seen Annie Hall.)
Dir. WS Van Dyke (1934)
William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles are quite possibly the sexiest couple in film; after all, it's the sheer joy that they take in the other's drunken bon mots that fires their brilliant relationship. The plot of The Thin Man is nothing to write home about, really—it's just a construct to hang all the brilliant intellectual wordplay on. And what wordplay! The novel by Dashiell Hammett translates perfectly to the screen, and Nick and Nora are buzzed on love:
Nora: "Pretty girl."
Nick: "Yes. She's a very nice type."
Nora: "You got types?"
Nick: "Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."
This film was nominated for Best Picture, only to lose to Night (can you imagine two films full of palpable sex and sloe gin fizz like that duking it out today?). It went on to spawn five sequels, the likes of which featured a baby Dean Stockwell and a young Jimmy Stewart. There's a certain frission to Nick and Nora that's rarely seen in film or real life: a true marriage of equals. One would like to think another sexy and powerful couple have that magic today: the Obamas.
Dir. Howard Hawks (1940)
All hail the ailing newspaper business in its heyday, when Cary Grant could be your sexy editor and an amazingly besuited Rosalind Russell the star reporter, and the two were destined for a trip down the aisle (and obscurity in Albany) with dear dull Ralph Bellamy (whose forever other-man status was the inspiration for Michael Showalter's 2005 TFF romcom riff The Baxter). Taken from the play The Front Page, the twist was that Russell's character in the play was a man, and Hawks changed the character's gender for the movie. Russell, who got the role once the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Colbert, and Ginger Rogers passed on it, made the most of it by hiring a writer and ad-libbing a host of punched-up, witty lines each day. Hawks capitalized on it as well, letting the film run free with super-fast dialogue. The real charge comes from the daffy Grant using his suave charm to coerce his workaholic love back into her rightful place, the newsroom (and by extension, his arms).
Dir. William Wyler (1953)
An icon was born with Roman Holiday, a delightful lark of a film that introduced the world to young starlet Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn, who would go onto win the Oscar that year for Best Actress (one of the few debut wins), was only a luminous 23 when she spirited away hardboiled expatriate newspaper reporter Gregory Peck on a Vespa-fueled tour of Rome and its pleasures. It's a grand work about people high on the spiris of travel and freedom, falling in love against the backdrop of the Eternal City. Dalton Trumbo was one of the original screenwriters, along with John Dighton; however, as Trumbo was on the blacklist, Ian McLellan Hunter fronted for the writer. The 2003 DVD release digitally restored Trumbo's name to the credits.
Dir. Billy Wilder (1960)
"Shut up and deal." There's a lot of existentsial terror coming from Wilder's 1960 masterpiece. After all, the premise is pretty dark—insurance schlub C.C. Baxter (the sublime Jack Lemmon) is moving up the corporate ladder by lending out his place to his superiors so that they can carry on their illicit affairs in peace. Baxter may be moving up in the business world, but it's not doing his social life any good, and when he meets comely elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), things get knotty. Few films get the loneliness that drives the American (New York in particular) will to succeed, and you root—hard—for Baxter to get off the corporate path and become a "real" man, a guy in love. Ever sharp-eyed, Wilder resolves all this drama with elegant dialogue to complement Lemmon's brilliant bluster. Quite possibly the best Best Picture winner of all.
Dir. David Mamet (2000)
David Mamet isn't always the edgy dude. He can write a romantic comedy when he wants to, and tucked within this spiky Hollywood-invading-New England satire is the story of two sweet kids (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon) who are going to make it work. Hoffman stars as playwright Joseph Turner White, who's hired to write a screenplay called The Old Mill. William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Alec Baldwin (in his first true incarnation as a hilarious blowhard) play an L.A. director and his pampered actors who blow into Vermont and try to make a classic. The script is eminently quotable (Parker's character's freakout about baring her breasts is best summed up by another character with, "Who cares? America can draw her tits from memory." Remember that quote when other actresses make the news for nudity.) Hoffman's character is hilariously passive, looking on, horrified, as his script "about purity" becomes corrupted—but when he meets salty local bookstore owner Pidgeon, well, there's a rainbow after the storm. A hilarious movie that makes salient points about art? That features authentic Vermont-native oldtimers and that supremely weird accent? That probably would've won Best Picture in 1932? That has Hoffman as a soft, adorable, neurotic lead? Sign me up!
[To The Office obsessives: a VERY YOUNG John Krasinski cameos towards the end.]