' Cinema Romantico: It Happened One Night

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It Happened One Night

There are moments in the classic movies that we all know. We've seen them a million times even if we've never actually seen the movie itself. I'm sure almost everyone is familiar with the line "Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings" from "It's A Wonderful Life". Regardless of whether or not a person knows anything about the film beyond that line it is still part of the lexicon. For awhile I was one of those people. I knew the basics of the movie but, primarily, I knew that line. And not much else.


But I remember watching the movie for the first time in its entirety (on Christmas Eve, I swear) and hearing Clarence (Angel, Second Class) explain to George why he doesn't have any wings and how you're able to determine when an Angel actually earns them. And so then when the line as spoken by George's son comes back into play much later in the movie, I'll be honest, my eyes got a little moist. And I remember commenting out loud, "You don't really appreciate that line until you get it in the full context."


Likewise, as I finally watched the long-revered "It Happened One Night" this past weekend I had a similiar experience. I'd viewed the moment when Claudette Colbert stalks to the side of the road and raises her skirt so as to give a complete view of her leg to a passing motorist so said motorist will stop and offer a ride. I'd viewed it many, many times. But I'd never viewed it as one should view it.


Leading up to that classic moment is Clark Cable's newspaper man spewing on and on about how he knows the proper way a person should hitchhike. He could "write a book about it" (a line he's used a couple times before this). There are three methods, you see, and he demonstrates all of them, and all of them several times, and all to no avail. It's fantastic and I got so caught up in it that, I swear, I completely forgot about the moment we all know that was coming. And so then, of course, Colbert struts out and shows her leg and - boom! - they've got the car. And then - and only then - did I truly get it. Only then did it become truly hysterical. Only then did I see it the way it was always meant to be seen.

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