It Happened One Night, or so the story goes. Boy meets girl and rather than an instant infatuation, there’s an instant annoyance. But suddenly, one night, their eyes meet across a crowded room and bam! they’re in love. Well, that’s how it worked for Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and that’s how it has happened ever since!
Gable plays newspaper reporter Peter to Colbert’s heiress Ellen, much like Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but with a happier ending (although Roman Holiday will always rate higher with me). Today, the film is 79 years old (!) and its romantic tale is as relevant today as it was then. In fact, compared to modern day rom-coms, there’s greater chemistry between the leads and it is more sharply written than most of the Katherine Heigl Hollywood machine flicks that have been churned out in the last decade. It is often cited as the original rom-com, and it was the first film to pick up the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress. No other rom-com has even come close!
By the time you’re about 20 minutes into watching the film for the first time, you’re completely captivated. The hero and heroine are both likeable and believable and each scene plays out in a way in which you find yourself wishing for more conflict – anything to keep them sparring against each other – yet still hoping for a happy ending. As a teen, you may have yearned for the extensive vocabulary and witty repartee of Dawson and Joey, but classic screwball comedies have the kind of dialogue that Dawson couldn’t have even dreamt of scripting!
The reference to It Happened One Night in the appalling Sex and the City 2 only goes to further emphasise the fact that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Sure, every now and then you get a When Harry Met Sally or (500) Days of Summer, but rom-coms just don’t have that kind of je ne sais quoi these days. There is a very specific formula which creates the perfect rom-com – one which audiences can relate to and lives in the hearts of viewers for years to come. What does the formula consist of for you? For me, it’s my favourite leading man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), my favourite leading lady (Emma Stone), a hilarious script (Nora Ephron, RIP) and a director who favours style and substance in equal measure (Sofia Coppola). Share your winning formula in the comments section below!