It Happened One Night is a 1934 romantic comedy screwball movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It was a smash hit winning five major Academy Awards that year for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. This accomplishment was not matched until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. It’s one of my favorite movies.
The movie is about the adventures of spoiled socialite “Ellie” Ellen Andrews and newspaper man Peter Warne. Ellie has married King Westley (Jameson Thomas) much to her father’s (Walter Connolly) disapproval. Ellie jumps from her father’s boat and boards a bus to New York to be reunited with King. Ellie’s father puts out a reward for her return and hires private investigators to find her. On the bus she meets out of work newspaper reporter Peter Warne who thinks she’s a spoiled brat. On the first bus stop her suitcase is stolen with all her money but the $4 she has in her purse. When the bus stops over for the night she thinks the bus will wait for her in the morning. She’s twenty minutes late and the bus has left without her. Peter tells her, “What’s the matter? The old meanies wouldn’t wait for you?” By this time he recognizes her and in exchange for an exclusive story he offers to help her or he can tell her father where she is. She agrees to let him help her get to New York. They catch the next bus that evening. She sits next to an obnoxious man Shapley who can’t stop talking. When he hits on her Peter comes to her rescue saying she is his wife. By now she only has $1.60 left and he puts her on a budget. It’s been raining and the bridge is out so they have to stay at an auto camp over night. The cost of a room is $2 and since she can’t afford a room she stays with him. Being the gentleman he is, he puts up a rope the length of the room and puts a blanket over it for privacy. He calls it the wall of Jericho. He even lends her his best pajamas. In the morning their breakfast consists of one scrambled egg and donut. He shows her the fine art of dunking the donut. Back on the bus Shapley recognizes Ellie. The bus driver, distracted by singing from the passengers runs off the road and is stuck in the mud. Shapley approaches Peter about splitting the reward 50/50 with him. Peter then pretends to be a gangster who has kidnapped Ellie. It scares Shapley so much he runs for the woods. Now Peter and Ellie are on foot. They find a spot outside to camp out for the night. Peter goes in search for food and brings back a bunch of carrots. By now they are falling in love with each other. In the morning they try hitchhiking. It’s a great scene that can’t be described in words. See clip below.
After they have hitched a ride they stop to stretch their legs. The driver then drives off with Peter’s suitcase. Peter runs after the car and returns with it without the driver. Once again they are at a motor camp. The rope and blanket are put up again. Peter talks about the kind of woman he’d like to find. Ellie tells him she loves him. In the middle of the night he leaves for New York. He goes to the newspaper and asks his former boss for $1000 and writes him an article that Ellie will not remarry King but will marry him. In the meantime, the owners of the motor camp wake to find the car gone. They tell Ellie she has to go since they don’t have money to pay for the room. She sees Peter is gone. She walks to a police station and calls her father. Peter is trying to get back to Ellie to profess his love and ask her to marry. On his way back he is passed by her father and king with a motorcycle escort. They pick Ellie up and pass Peter on the way back. He sees her and turns the car around. The car breaks down and the tire goes flat.
Back in New York Ellie prepares to remarry King Westly. She admits to her father that she is in love with Peter. Meanwhile, Peter is drunk in his apartment looking at all the newspaper articles covering the wedding. Ellie’s father calls Peter and asks him to come over to the house. Peter wants a check and Ellie’s father thinks it’s the reward for finding Ellie. He’s surprised to see Peter’s itemized list of things like hat, shirts, coat, etc plus the things he spent on her on their trip back to New York. The amount was $39.60. This is all he wanted. After Ellie’s father writes the check he asks Peter if he’s in love with his daughter. He finally says “YES but don’t hold it against me I’m a little screwy myself”!
As the new cameras are rolling Ellie is walked down the aisle by her father. He tells her all Peter didn’t want the reward. He just wanted the money he spent on her and that he’s a good man. He tells her she could do better than King and he could easily pay him off. While she’s standing next to King she decides not to marry him and runs to her car that her father has waiting for her.
King has finally agreed to the annulment for $100,000. In the next scene we see an auto camp where the owners are talking about how they don’t believe Ellie and Peter are married. The husband tells his wife he wouldn’t believe it either if he hadn’t seen the marriage license himself
The chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert is just amazing. Neither wanted to do the movie and luckily for us they did because it’s such a gem. Their performance in this movie was Oscar gold.