Hitchhiking with Clark Gable.
DIRECTED BY FRANK CAPRA
After wrapping on Frank Capra’s screwball comedy It Happened One night, star Claudette Colbert reportedly told her friend that she’d just finished working on the worst picture in the world. Her impression wasn’t exactly shared by critics, who were lukewarm, but nor was the film a big success until it hit second-run theatres months later, where its opposites-attract love story and star wattage gained it the momentum it needed to make it into the Academy Awards. There, it became the first film to snag the elusive top-five honours: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. The feat has been repeated only twice since, and never again by a comedy.
That turnaround can probably be chalked up to the escapist charms of the plot, which revolves around an eventful road trip taken by socialite Ellie Andrews (Colbert), who we first see jumping off her father’s boat, fleeing his heavy-handed parental oversight and heading for New York. She aims to get there by Greyhound, where she meets wily reporter Peter Wayne (Clark Gable), who recognizes her from the headlines and promises not to snitch as long as she gives him an exclusive and a little flirtatious banter.
Colbert is suitably dignified as a pampered woman coming into her own on cramped buses and in dodgy hotels, and Gable is very funny as the quick thinker, somewhere between a romantic prospect and a surrogate dad. (His compulsive carrot-munching in one scene so tickled Looney Tunes animator Friz Freleng that he modelled Bugs Bunny after him.) Best, though, are the comic setpieces, including Colbert’s racy lesson on hitchhiking to the incredulous Grant. It was beautifully realized by Capra and has been imitated endlessly since.