It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night
Frank Capra, 1934, 105’

Ellie Andrews: You know, this is the first time in years I’ve ridden piggyback.

Peter Warne: This isn’t piggyback.

Of course it is.

You’re crazy.

I remember distinctly my father taking me for a piggyback ride.

And he carried you like this?


Your father didn’t know beans about piggyback riding.

My uncle, mother’s brother, has four children and I’ve seen them ride piggyback.

I’ll bet there isn’t a good piggyback rider in your whole family. I never knew a rich man yet who could piggyback ride.

You’re prejudiced.

You show me a good piggybacker and I’ll show you a real human. Now you take Abraham Lincoln for instance. A natural born piggybacker. Where do you get all of that stuffed-shirts family of yours?

My father was a great piggybacker.


“Not knowing whether human knowledge and human community require the recognizing or the dismantling of limits; not knowing what it means that these limits are sometimes picturable as a barrier and sometimes not; not knowing whether we are more afraid of being isolated or of being absorbed by our knowledge and by society – these lines of ignorance are the background against which I wish to consider Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). And most urgently, as may be guessed, I wish to ponder its central figure of the barrier-screen, I daresay the most famous blanket in the history of drama. I am not unaware that some of my readers – even those who would be willing to take up Kant and Capra seriously, or earnestly, in isolation from one another – will not fully credit the possibility that a comic barrier, hardly more than a prop in a traveling salesman joke, can invoke issues of metaphysical isolation and of the possibility of community – must invoke them if this film’s comedy is to be understood. I still sometimes participate in this doubt, so it is still in part myself whose conviction I seek.”

Stanley Cavell1


Stefan Ramstedt: I was thinking about another thing you said at the Q&A, about Rivette discussing Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) and saying that contemporary films needed to be much longer. I’m wondering if you think that his arguments are still valid today?

Pedro Costa: Absolutely. Rivette was talking about the scope of emotion, the amazing roller coaster of contradictory feelings, the immense horizon of events that these classical directors could deal with in just a normal feature film of 90 minutes… It’s really a lost art. “Once there was a formula”, like Talking Heads sung… The love for craftsmanship, the art of writing, the finesse of the performances, the brilliance and the efficiency of the directing, the emotional extravaganza that these guys could fit into 90 minutes is unthinkable nowadays. To do the same thing today, to achieve such a construction with all that complex layering, it would take any contemporary director 3, 4, 5 hours of film. Just to get to that crucial moment when the girl or the boy breaks down, it would take any of us at least 3 hours…2


UPDATED ON 26.06.2018