Well, you can’t go home again; but that sure doesn’t stop a lot of folks from getting a return ticket or from being taken for a ride in the same rickety vehicle. And with pleasure! Before I head out to the theater for another meeting with Moll Flanders, who’s been around the block plenty, I am going to hop on the old “Night Bus” that took Colbert and Gable places—and all the way to the Academy Awards besides. On this day, 20 March, in 1939, the Depression era transport was fixed up for a Lux Radio Theater presentation of It Happened One Night. Whereas Orson Welles would try to shove Miriam Hopkins and William Powell into their seats for the Campbell Playhouse adaptation of Robert Riskin’s screenplay, Colbert and Gable (as Peter Warne) were brought back for Lux, reprising their Oscar-winning roles of runaway socialite Ellie Andrews and the reporter on her trail. Also on board that night were Walter Connelly as Ellie’s father and, “believe you me,” Roscoe Karns as the fellow traveler Ellie can stand even less than the arrogant newshound—”Yessir. Shapeley’s the name, and that’s the way I like ’em.”
Of course, if you like ’em like Shapeley, George Wells’s rewrite of the Production-Coded tease that is It Happened One Night will be a disappointment. For starters, you won’t get to admire Colbert’s traffic-stopping gams or Gable’s retailer-headache of a bare chest. Capra’s down-to-earth comedy suffers badly from becoming airborne—if, indeed, it ever does.
On the airwaves, you won’t get to hear Ellie’s liberating plunge into the ocean; her story picks up at the bus terminal, with Peter getting fired while the “Extra, Extra” of a newsboy alerts him to the scoop that could revive his career. Before we quite get why Ellie is out of her element, Peter is already in his, as the elements of screwball are beaten to the pulp of romance.
The old bus sputters along as if someone had slashed its tires. Gone, too, are many of Riskin’s censors-defying innuendos. Still, if you got a mischievous mind, you can tear down the Walls of Jericho or any barrier that might keep you from imagining what is really happening between Ellie and Peter. “You haven’t got a trumpet by any chance, have you?” Luckily, I always carry a spare.