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Films for "America after the Fall": "It Happened One Night" (1934) and "The Public Enemy" (1931)

July 23, 2016
Price Auditorium
Free with museum admission

These classic films from the 1930s echo many social and cultural themes found in America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s

The classic American gangster film that launched lead actor James Cagney to stardom.  The Public Enemy follows the life of an impoverished young man in Chicago, Tom Powers (Cagney), as he escalates from petty crime to heading a murderous bootlegging ring.  Jean Harlow plays a small but memorable role as Cagney’s glamorous moll. A reflection of its era, the film was released when infamous gangsters were making daily headlines.

Opposites attract with magnetic force in It Happened One Night, a romantic road-trip delight from Frank Capra, about a spoiled runaway socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a roguish man-of-the people reporter (Clark Gable) who is determined to get the scoop on her scandalous disappearance. The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories, It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon and featuring two actors at the top of their game, sparking with a chemistry that has never been bettered.