When I first saw this one years ago, I thought it was too much of a farce…too over the top…too silly. But, re-watching it, I am able now to see it’s fine details as one of America’s great broad comedies. Cary Grant is at his wackiest here…as the nephew of two matronly ladies who have begun an unusual pastime…murdering lonely old men and having them buried in the basement. We’ve all seen (and loved) Grant do screwball…but this is pretty much as slapstick as comedy can get. He’s physical and very expressive…perfect for this role as the befuddled nephew of these two crazy killers. Directed by Frank Capra, I think one of the reasons this one took a while to sink in is because it’s almost TOO over the top. But, I guess as I’m getting older, I find the need for more and more comedy. And this one will sure satisfy that need!

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OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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This film set the stage for early romantic comedies and also gave the brilliant career of director Frank Capra a boost. While running away from the demands of her strict, wealthy father, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) meets struggling newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) on a bus going from Florida to New York City. They cannot be more different: he likes to drink more than work and she is spoiled and prudish about everything. What should be just a two-night ride turns into a much-longer trip filled with stops and mishaps, all of which bring the two closer together, despite their differences. This movie’s sharp, witty dialogue inspired a new form of film comedy, where the characters’ initial love/hate relationship inevitably turns to romance. This comedy style was used later for films such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, also from 1940. Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to make this comedy, but after they were both honored with Academy Awards for their work, they were probably glad they did. It Happened One Night also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars.

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When a wealthy and ultra-conservative banker’s son (James Stewart) falls for his secretary (Jean Arthur)…a stable girl from a flighty yet fun family…comedy ensues. Lionel Barrymore steals the show as Arthur’s happy-go-lucky grandfather. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, this film won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Frank Capra). Not Capra’s best work but a fun film to watch for good, entertaining amusement.

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