The 1930s in Hollywood were a golden era, there were glittering epics such as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, fabulously overblown women's pictures like Dark Victory and The Women and a raft of acclaimed literary classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and Wuthering Heights.... But by far the most entertaining films of that golden age for me, and the films I return to again and again are the glorious romantic comedies of Frank Capra. Because Capra's comedies weren't just funny and gloriously romantic, they were also heartfelt and genuine, shedding a healing light on the hard times of the Great Depression.
Escapism with an edge, I like to call it.
Now Capra was a fan of Gary Cooper (Mr Deeds Goes to Town) and later James Stewart (It's a Wonderful Life), but my favourite of his comedies (and it's got a lot of competition) has to be the time he cast Clark Gable as his leading man in It Happened One Night. This was Gable five years before he took on the iconic role of Rhett Butler in GWTW and while the darkly handsome good looks, alpha tendencies and trademark playboy 'tache are already in evidence here, this is a younger, more playful and laid-back Gable — he's super-sexy, but his reporter Peter Warne is also witty, wonderfully contemporary and gets as good as he gives from his sassy heroine — Claudette Colbert's runaway heiress Ellie Andrews. So if we translate that into M&B terms, while Rhett is more of a Modern hero, Peter for me is all Modern Heat.
Like most of Capra's films, the story is simple and remarkably subtle, brilliantly clever and always character-led.
Ellie has decided to tie the knot with 'society aviator' King Wesley against her millionaire father's wishes. Dad whisks her away to his luxury yacht to make her see sense, but she escapes - determined to make her way back to King come what may. Enter our smart, jobbing reporter Peter Warne who's on the look-out for a headline-grabbing exclusive. And Ellie's race across country to be reunited with her beau is it. Ellie's at first reluctant, but after a spot of blackmail and the realisation that she needs Peter — because you see she has no money, very few clothes and she is not used to slumming it — they end up hitchhiking and bickering their way across country together.
Thus begins an often hilarious (see the hitchhiking scene below), frequently heart-warming and also exceptionally sexy (now check out the 'Walls of Jericho' sequence) battle of wits that turns to romance, when Ellie finally figures out that Peter's more of a match for her than King will ever be, and Peter figures out that his career isn't as important as finding true love — and a woman who knows 'the limb is mightier than the thumb'!
But don't take my word for it. This film won the five big Oscars of 1935 - namely Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay — can still charm the pants off you three quarters of a century after it was made and, most importantly of all, put an end to men wearing vests (when Gable revealed his bare chest). And let's face it ladies, we've all got to salute it for that!!
So here are those two keys scenes to check out:
First: The Hitch-Hiking Scene... Watch how Ellie strings Peter along so beautifully while he happily gallops towards his come-uppence fuelled by his own self-importance.
And the piece de resistance... Considered super-risque in it's day, this scene is still pretty hot now but you'll have to watch the movie to see The Walls of Jericho come tumbling down!
I give you It Happened One Night, proof that not only does money not buy you love, but actually slumming it can be very romantic.... Especially if you're doing it with Clark Gable.
Heidi's brand new Modern Heat novel Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger has just hit bookshelves in the UK and Ireland. While her latest Presents Extra, Unfinished Business with the Duke is currently still available in the US. Come talk to her on her blog, on Facebook or on her website about vintage rom-coms, Clark Gable's bare chest, or even her books!