It Happened One Night

1934 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

ithappenedonenight-poster“It Happened One Night” tells the story of a spoilt heiress who runs away from her home in Miami. She encounters a disgraced reporter who agrees to help her reach New York in exchange for the rights to her story.

“It Happened One Night” was the first of only 3 films that have ever won all 5 major Oscars (best movie, director, actor, actress, and screenplay), the other 2 being “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Silence of the Lambs”.

Times have changed a lot since 1934, but this is still a charming film that can claim to have influenced hundreds of other romantic comedies over the decades. It is interesting to see the formula for the rom-com was already established in 1934. If you like movies like Pillow Talk, When Harry Met Sally, or One Fine Day, you should give It Happened One Night a try.

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.


Headstrong heiress Ellie Andrews falls out with her father when she secretly marries a man he disapproves of. She leaves her father in Miami and goes off on her own to meet her new husband, King Westley, in New York. Before long, her luggage is stolen and she has run out of cash. She meets up with Peter, a recently fired reporter, who offers to help her if he can write a story about her, and she agrees.



They plan to go by Greyhound bus, but they abandon that idea when a fellow passenger recognizes Ellie and attempts to blackmail them. They then try hitch-hiking, and this seems to be going well until their driver tries to steal their belongings. Peter foils the attempt though, steals the car, and decides to drive them the rest of the way himself.


Their journey takes several days, and includes overnight stays in hotels, and one in a haystack. During this time they become closer, and eventually Ellie announces that she is in love with Peter.


In the days before the invention of the tumble drier it often seemed to take forever for the bed linen to dry.

Peter does not respond initially, but soon realizes he feels the same way. He decides to make a romantic gesture to her, and while she is asleep he writes up the story of their love. He plans to drive through the night and get it to the newspaper and have it printed before she wakes up, so that she can read about his love for her the next morning. However, the plan goes wrong, and Ellie wakes up and finds Peter gone. She assumes he has abandoned her, and heartbroken, calls her father to come and collect her.

Several days later, Ellie has agreed to go back to King, and they have arranged a big wedding ceremony. When her father finds out that she really loves Peter, he arranges for Peter to turn up. As he hopes would happen, Ellie cannot go through with the service, and she runs off, in her wedding gown, to be with Peter.


Steve Sunday Says:

For the first ten minutes of “It Happened One Night” I found myself wondering three things –

1. If everyone in the 1930s spoke in that abrupt nasal voice, or just actors?
2. If Clark Gable’s moustache was drawn in with the same felt-tipped pen as Claudette Colbert’s eyebrows?
3. If I would look cool smoking a pipe?


Claudette Colbert’s famous role in the hay

Once I got past those distractions though, I found the movie quite enjoyable. The overacting soon stopped, and the two lead characters were more likeable than I was expecting. The rainy night at the motel, the piggybacking over the river, and the haystack scene, all looked great, so much better than they would have done in color.

Mrs Sunday also rather liked “It Happened One Night”, although she thought it a bit shouty in places. Both of us found Peter’s race to get back to the motel at the end quite tense, and both of us felt quite foolish when we realized (after about an hour!) that “King” was Mr Westley’s first name, not his title.

My favourite line – “What you need is a good sock on the nose.”
(Although the image this conjured up for me was probably not the one the scriptwriter intended.)

One final note – it has already been mentioned that we have It Happened One Night to thank for influencing all the great rom-coms over the subsequent decades, however, let us not forget that it should also take the blame for the not so great ones – The Bounty Hunter,Swept Away, Gigli … I could go on but the thought of Frank Capra turning in his grave as I type is making me feel guilty.


Trivia Trish Says:

  • Neither of the two leads really wanted to make this movie. Gable was forced by the studio, Colberg was just doing it for the money.  Neither enjoyed the experience, and at the end Colberg told friends “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world.”
  • Colberg refused to show her legs for the hitching scene until Capra threatened to get a body double, with better legs.

So is that why the girls call you Peter Rabbit?

  • The character Oscar Shapely from It Happened One Night was reportedly the inspiration for Bugs Bunny (although the name “Bugs” came from a different character in the movie) and the way in which Peter ate a carrot while talking quickly was also copied by Looney Tunes and assigned to Bugs. Furthermore, it has been said that Alexander Andrews was the inspiration for Yosemite Sam, and that King Westley was the inspiration for Pepé LePew.

Chris the Critic says:

The excessive sentimentality that would mark the director’s later work (‘Capra-corn’, geddit?) is not present here, and this is a better film for it. The fast pace, the banter and bickering, the chemistry between the leads, and the glorious depression-era backdrop make it a joy to behold.

Main Cast and Crew:

Ellie Andrews – Claudette Colbert
Peter Warne – Clark Gable
Directed by Frank Capra.

Top ten b&w movies with misleading titles:

10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
……No bodies are snatched
9. A Night to Remember
……If you were on board, I should think you would want to forget it
8. Twelve Angry Men
……A few of them actually seem quite laid-back
7. Lord of the Flies
……Sounds like it should be a wildlife documentary
6. To Kill a Mocking Bird
……No mocking birds are killed
5. The Big Sleep
……Nobody sleeps
4. Dead of Night
……It was the middle of the day
3. The Man Who Wasn’t There
……He was there.
2. Kind Hearts and Coronets
1. It Happened One Night
……Whatever it was, it happened over several days and nights
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