Words, Words, Words! The CMBA Spring Blogathon: Robert Riskin

 The Wonderful Words of Robert Riskin

“Behold the walls of Jericho! Maybe not as thick as the ones that Joshua blew down with his trumpet, but a lot safer. You see, I have no trumpet.”
– Clark Gable in It Happened One Night

Recognize that quote? Yes, I would imagine that many of us classic movie fans do – but that’s just one of the many memorable lines penned by screenwriter Robert Riskin. And, although probably not in the lexicon of the ‘average’ classic movie fan, Riskin has undoubtedly contributed to some of the most beloved films of all time, most notably through his collaborations with legendary director Frank Capra.

robert riskinRobert Riskin

Robert Riskin was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on March 30, 1897, (incidentally, just 7 weeks prior to Frank Capra who was born on May 18, 1897 in Sicily). As a young teen, Riskin would sneak into vaudeville shows and transcribe the jokes and sketches he heard on stage. Early on, he took a job with Heidenheim and Levy, a shirt manufacturer whose partners invested in films. At age 17, the partners sent him to Florida to run their film production company, where Riskin churned out comedies until he enlisted in the Navy during WWI.

Upon returning to New York City after the war, Riskin faced some career struggles, but ultimately found success on Broadway as a playwright. During the Great Depression however, many Broadway stages fell dark – so in 1930, when Columbia Pictures bought the screen rights to some of his plays, Riskin made the move to Hollywood. And that’s where he met Frank Capra…

robert riskin and frank capraRobert Riskin and Frank Capra

Over the course of the next ten years, Riskin would collaborate with Capra on ten films: The Miracle Woman (1931 adaptation of Riskin’s Broadway play Bless You Sister co-written with John Meehan), Platinum Blonde (1931), American Madness (1932), Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Broadway Bill (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Meet John Doe (1941).

Although parting ways with Capra in 1941 (feeling that Capra was taking the lion’s share of credit for their films), Riskin was credited on three additional Capra films: Riding High (1950), Here Comes the Groom (1951) and a remake of Lady for a Day called Pocketful of Miracles (1961, posthumously).

meet john doe set with james gleason barbara stanwyck robert riskin frank capra gary cooper walter brennan and spring byingtonOn the set of  Meet John Doe: unidentified person, James Gleason, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Riskin,
Frank Capra, Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, and Spring Byington (photo: Six Screenplays by Robert Riskin)

In addition to working with Capra, Riskin also wrote the screen plays and/or stories for other notable films including The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, John Ford director), The Thin Man Goes Home (1935, Richard Thorpe director) and Magic Town (1947, William A. Wellman director).


So, to celebrate Riskin’s indelible dialog, here is a sampling of iconic lines from some of Capra’s (and his) most iconic films:


“I’ll stop a car, and I won’t use my thumb!”
– Claudette Colbert as Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night


it happend one night walls of jericho how a man undresses

“Perhaps you’re interested in how a man undresses…”
-Clark Gable as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night


mr deeds goes to town People here are funny. They work so hard at living, they forget how to live.

“People here are funny. They work so hard at living, they forget how to live. Last night after I left you I was walking along and I was looking at the tall buildings. And I got to thinking about what Thoreau said. They created a lot of tall palaces here but they forgot to create the noblemen to put in them.”
-Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town


gary cooper in mr deeds goes to town

“It’s like the road out in front of my house. It’s on a steep hill. Every day I watch the cars climbing up. Some go lickety-split up that hill on high, some have to shift into second, and some sputter and shake and slip back to the bottom again. Same cars, same gasoline, yet some make it and some don’t. And I say the fellas who can make the hill on high should stop once in a while and help those who can’t.”
-Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

“It’s like I’m out in a big boat and I see one fellow in a rowboat who’s tired of rowing and wants a free ride – and another fellow who’s drowning. Who would you expect me to rescue?… Any ten-year-old child will give you the answer to that.”
-Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town


chang hb warner and robert conway ronald colman in lost horizon

“Age is a limit we impose upon ourselves. You know, each time you Westerners celebrate your birthday, you build another fence around your minds.”
-H. B. Warner as Chang in Lost Horizon


lost horizon ending scene

“Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here’s my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here’s my hope that we all find our Shangri-La.”
– Hugh Buckler as Lord Gainsford in Lost Horizon



“Listen, when I was courting your Grandmother, it took me two years to propose. You know why? The moment she’d walk into a room, my knees buckled. Blood would rush up into my head and the walls would start to dance. Twice I keeled over in a dead faint.”
-Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can’t Take It With You

“I can still hear the tinkle of her thin little voice, see her eyes laughing. That’s the reason I’ve lived in this house so many years — could never move out — would be like moving out on grandma.”
-Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can’t Take It With You


you can't take it with you edward arnold and lionel barrymore in jail

“Scum, are we? What makes you think you’re such a superior human being? Your money? If you do, you’re a dull-witted fool, Mr. Kirby. And a poor one at that. You’re poorer than any of these people you call scum, because I’ll guarantee at least they’ve got some friends.”
-Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can’t Take It With You

“Maybe it’ll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use? You can’t take it with you, Mr. Kirby. So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”
-Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can’t Take It With You


gary cooper meet john doe speech

“Now, why can’t that spirit, that same warm Christmas spirit last the whole year round?”
-Gary Cooper as Long John Willoughby in Meet John Doe


meet john doe ending scene rooftop gary cooper and barbara stanwyck

“Oh, John, if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for.”
-Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell in Meet John Doe


And, to wrap up, just a few fun facts about Robert Riskin:

fay wrayFay Wray
  • Riskin directed only one film, When You’re in Love (1937) – a musical starring Cary Grant and Grace Moore.
  • It Happened One Night was the first film ever to sweep all five major categories of the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Writing Adaptation (Robert Riskin), Best Actor (Clark Gable) and Best Actress (Claudette Colbert).
  • Riskin was nominated for five Oscars: Lady for a Day (Best Writing Adaptation), It Happened One Night (Best Writing Adaptation WINNER), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Best Writing Screenplay), You Can’t Take It With You (Best Writing Screenplay), and Here Comes the Groom (Best Writing Motion Picture Story).
  • Riskin married actress Fay Wray (of King Kong fame) in 1942. They had three children together and remained married until Riskin’s death in 1955.
  • Riskin’s older brother, Everett, was a Hollywood film producer. He was associate producer for Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and The Awful Truth (1937) – and producer for Holiday (1938), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Kismet (1944), and The Thin Man Goes Home (1945, written by Robert).


And one last image for good measure… The Walls of Jericho 🙂

it happened one night the walls of jericho


 A Big Thank You to the marvelous Classic Movie Blog Association for hosting this very special event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.

—Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

This entry was posted in Blogathons, Posts by Annmarie Gatti and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Words, Words, Words! The CMBA Spring Blogathon: Robert Riskin

  1. Riskin wrote truth and he wrote humor. I think he may be one of the main reasons so many of us became and remained fans of classic films. I learned much about the writer from your article. Thank you.

  2. George says:

    I love Riskin/Capra productions. Mr Deeds and It Happened One Night are tops on my list of favorite films.

    On a cool note: I just bought a one-page contract from Capra Productions for Capra to get a bonus for working hard on Meet John Doe. It’s signed by VP Riskin and Capra. It’s NEAT!

  3. Camero says:

    Wonderful entry in the blogathon! The quotes you chose were stupendous–put me right back into all of those terrific movies! Thank you!

  4. MarshaCollock says:

    Loved this – thanks so much for turning the spotlight on a name seem many times in the credits. Amazing how such wonderful writers ended up in Hollywood during those years, isn’t it?

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  6. I am a big fan of old movies!
    Thanks for honoring such a marvelous writer! He wrote hilarious & brilliant screenplays!

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