best film:  It is a two-horse race here and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night reigns supreme above Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story. Both films feature crazy good talent in front of the camera (Claudette Colbert in both of course – opposite Clark Gable in Capra’s film and Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story) and witty writing. It is Capra’s breakneck editing pace that really pushes it past Sturges’ film (and so many others) in the screwball genre.


1934 was the year of Claudette Colbert in Hollywood. She not only had It Happened One Night (pictured here – opposite Clark Gable) where the film won all the major awards and her the best lead actress award. But she also starred in Cleopatra and Imitation of Life from 1934 – two other best picture nominees. Cleopatra and It Happened One Night were two of the biggest box office smashes of the year as well.



best performance:  It Happened One Night. Colbert and Clark Gable won the two lead acting Oscars for their work in this iconic masterpiece. Colbert is every bit the equal of Gable. One of Hollywood’s most indelible images during the studio era is of Colbert hitchhiking with her legs.




stylistic innovations/traits:  Claudette Colbert was born in France but moved to the United States as a young child. Colbert was the queen of the screwball comedy and is perhaps more associated with the genre than say Katharine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck. Part of that is because Colbert is a comedic genius – but the other part is she failed to really break away from the genre (at least as successfully as either Hepburn or Stanwyck). Colbert did some television work in the 1950s, but she was largely retired from film acting by the end of World War II. Still, in her prime, she made eleven (11) archiveable films in fourteen (14) years from 1931 to 1944.



Colbert here (opposite Joel McCrea) as Gerry Jeffers in Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story




directors worked with:  Mitchell Leisen (2), but once with Ernst Lubitsch, John Ford, Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille and Preston Sturges.  Yes, Ford and DeMille are big names and the only two-time archiveable director collaboration is Leisen, but it is her work with the early sound comedy masters: Capra, Sturges, and Lubitsch (these three really helped define the genre – she is missing Howard Hawks here) that she is, rightly, remembered for.



Colbert’s big break was in 1931 – cast opposite Maurice Chevalier by none other than Ernst Lubitsch – The Smiling Lieutenant 




top five performances:

  1. It Happened One Night
  2. The Palm Beach Story
  3. The Smiling Lieutenant
  4. Midnight
  5. Since You Went Away




archiveable films

1931- The Smiling Lieutenant
1934- Cleopatra
1934- Imitation of Life
1934- It Happened One Night
1939- Drums Along the Mohawk
1939- It’s a Wonderful World
1939- Midnight
1940- Boom Town
1942- The Palm Beach Story
1943- No Time for Love
1944- Since You Went Away