It Happened One Night appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some moderate concerns, the picture held up well for its age.
Sharpness usually looked good. Some softness seemed to result from the style of photography; Capra appeared especially fond of spotlighting Colbert with some mild "glamour shot" lighting. Otherwise, the movie mostly boasted good clarity and definition. Though a little edge enhancement occurred, I noticed no issues with shimmering or jagged edges.
Source flaws caused very few distractions. Grain could be a little heavy, and I noticed a handful of specks and marks. However, these were quite minor, especially given the age of the movie. Black levels seemed reasonably dark and tight, though they occasionally appeared a little grayish. Shadows also were slightly erratic. While most low-light shots seemed fine, a few appeared somewhat too dark. Night wasn’t a stellar transfer, but it worked quite well overall.
Another pleasant surprise came from the monaural audio of It Happened One Night. The film came out during the relative infancy of sound movies and I expected it to sound harsh and scratchy. However, it's actually a very clean and accurate soundtrack. Distortion - which plagued more old mixes than anything else - was virtually nonexistent, even when characters shouted.
Dialogue lacked warmth but seemed clear and intelligible. The lines sounded quite natural for such an old movie. Effects and music - of which we heard little - sounded fine. Many old soundtracks suffered from much tape hiss and popping, but background noise was refreshingly absent. This was about as good as a track from 1934 could sound.
How did the picture and audio of this 2006 DVD compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? I felt the sound remained the same, but the visuals offered notable improvements. Actually, both looked a lot alike except in terms of source flaws. The 2006 transfer was significantly cleaner than its predecessor.
Night offers a few supplemental features, all of which come from the prior DVD. We start with a running, screen-specific audio commentary from Frank Capra, Jr. The director’s son covers the project’s genesis and development, cast, characters and performances, and various production elements.
The commentary begins well as Capra goes over the movie’s origins and related issues. However, he soon peters out and offers only sporadic notes throughout most of the film. Occasionally he’ll toss out decent remarks about his father’s use of rain in his flicks or the movie’s reception, but much of the time he either remains silent or simply describes the action on screen. This is a pretty dull commentary without much to keep us going through its 105 minutes.
We hear more from Capra in an 11-minute and 14-second piece called Frank Capra Jr. Remembers...It Happened One Night. This program intercuts interview shots of Capra with scenes from the film and other photos as he talks about the movie. He discusses the project’s origins and development, cast, characters and performances, sets, the tight schedule and related challenges, and the flick’s success.
Some of the information from the commentary also appears here. Really, the show is how they should have presented the commentary; simply make it into a documentary like this, since it would have compacted Capra’s narration into a much more listenable package. "Remembers" isn't a great program, but if provides some useful information.
One fascinating supplement that appears here is a 59-minute and 32-second live radio broadcast of It Happened One Night that aired in March 1939. This program adapted the film and featured both Colbert and Gable in their original roles. It's very entertaining, and I found it especially fascinating to note the differences in the story. (For one, the characters seem much more mild mannered; their mutual antagonism is almost invisible.)
Also delightful are the period ads from sponsor Lux soap. Apparently if I wash my underwear before I don it, I will be more popular. So that's why I've had such a weak social life! Where do I get me some of that Lux?
In addition, we encounter a Vintage Advertising section on the DVD that offers a mixture of lobby cards and theatre posters for the film; it provides 12 stills in all. The disc ends with the original theatrical trailer for Night.
As part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”, we get an extensive booklet. This piece covers It Happened One Night along with four other Capra flicks and different aspects of his career and life in the 1930s. It comes with a mix of photos and other archival materials along with good information. It acts as a quality component.
This disc drops a few extras from the original release. It loses trailers for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Lost Horizon as well as talent files for Capra, Gable and Colbert and a booklet with brief but informative production notes.
As far as a recommendation goes, It Happened One Night gets a positive call, though not an enthusiastic one. I like the film, though it doesn't bowl me over, and the DVD provides pretty decent picture, sound, and supplements. It's not a fantastic DVD, but it seems strong enough to warrant viewing.
Note that this release of It Happened One Night currently appears only as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”. This set also includes You Can’t Take It With You, American Madness, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a documentary called Frank Capra’s American Dream.