The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

It Happened One Night (1934) Classic Movie Review 97

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934)

Expert. And l'll write a book about it. Call it ''The Hitchhiker's Hail."

Today’s movie is It Happened One Night (1934). This movie was requested by Rick. Thanks for the suggestion because this was a movie I didn’t know too well. Today’s movie is It Happened One Night (1934). This Depression Era comedy is ranked number 35 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Times and number 8 on the AFI’s 100 Funniest Movies of All Time. This movie won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor -Clark Gable, Best Actress – Claudette Colbert, Best Director – Frank Capra, and Best Writing, Adaptation – Robert Riskin.

Clark Gable was loaned out for this film as punishment for having an affair with Joan Crawford. He won his only Oscar for his work in this film. Effective punishment.

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934)

And I have a flash message about Bugs Bunny at the end so don’t leave early.


Clark Gable plays the role of Peter, a newspaperman looking for a story. Gable was covered in Episode 14 – Band of Angels (1957).

Alan Hale was cast in the role of Danker. Hale was covered in Episode 80 – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Ward Bond has a very small uncredited role as a bus driver. He added a little humor. Bond was covered in Episode 53 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Claudette Colbert played Ellie, the runaway rich girl. Colbert was born in France in 1903. Her family moved to America when she was three. When she finished high she studied at the Art Students League and worked in a dress shop. In 1923, she was cast in her first Broadway play.

After a time, she switched to film with her first movie being For the Love of Mike (1927). This film bombed but with theaters begin closed due to the Great Depression, she continued making movies including The Lady Lies (1929), The Hole in the Wall (1929), Manslaughter (1930) with Fredric March, Honor Among Lovers (1931), Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932) where she played an evil character, The Phantom President (1932) with Jimmy Durante, and Tonight Is Ours (1933).

In 1934, she was in Four Frightened People (1934), but her next two films made her a star. These were the DeMille directed Cleopatra (1934) and the Frank Capra directed It Happened One Night (1934) where her pairing with Clark Gable made movie magic. This film won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

The rest of the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s saw her in solid roles such as Private Worlds (1935), The Gilded Lily (1935), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), No Time for Love (1943), and Since You Went Away (1944), where Colbert earned a third Oscar nomination.

By 1945, her star power was waning. She did some television work and a scattering of other films. Colbert returned to the theater in 1956. A series of strokes forced her to stop working and she died in 1996 at the age of 92.

Roscoe Karns played the role of Shapley, a rather important character. Karns started working on stage at the age of 15. He mostly played a street-wise character that gave his lines in rapid-fire. Although his heyday was in the 1930s he worked from the 1920s through the 1960s. Other than this movie, he had an important role in His Girl Friday (1940).


Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is being held on her father’s yacht because her father does not approve of her marriage to wealthy aviator King Westley. Her father is having the marriage annulled. Eventually, she quarreled with her father and then jumped overboard. She swims to shore and her father hires a detective agency to locate her. She has a lady buy a ticket for her and dodges the detectives in the bus station. In the phone booth is what seems like a drunk reporter named Peter Warne (Clark Gable) being fired by his boss. Peter boards the bus followed by a fanfare of drunks. There are newspapers in the last seat and Peter throws them off the bus. The bus driver (Ward Bond) has words with Peter but he is outwitted. When Peter goes to the seat, Ellie has slipped on board and taken both seats. He forces her to move over.

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934)

At the first rest stop, a man steals her bag and Peter chases him but he gets away. This leaves Ellie with only $4 to make the trip from Florida to New York. Back on the bus Ellie takes another seat rather than sit with Peter. When the man next to her falls asleep on her she joins Peter on the back seat. In the morning, she wakes snuggling with Peter. She is embarrassed. They have thirty minutes to eat but she goes into town to eat, expecting the driver of the bus to wait.

When she gets back the bus her luggage is gone but Peter is waiting for her. He returns her ticket that she had left on the seat. He calls her by her real name and says her story is in all of the newspapers. Ellie offers him a reward to help her get to New York. He throws down and says he is not interested in her or any of her problems. Peter sends a telegram to his boss in New York pitching the story.

At eight that night Ellie gets on the bus but sits with another man instead of Peter. The man, Shapley (Roscoe Karns) starts putting the hard press on her. Peter comes over and says Ellie is his wife and makes Shapley change seats.

The bus is stopped by the police because a bridge is washed out. The police say there is an auto-camp a piece away. Peter books a room saying they are a married couple. He hangs a rope across the room and hangs a blanket to divide the room. The director of the film Frank Capra came up with this divider that is called the “Walls of Jericho.” In reality, Colbert refused to undress on camera. Peter says he wants the story and he will help her get to her husband. If she doesn’t go along he will turn her into her father. When Gable was getting undressed, they found that he could not keep his timing while he pulled off his tee-shirt. So, they shot it without him wearing a tee-shirt. Sells of tee-shirts dropped after Gable was seen not wearing one.

In the morning as her father flies north, Ellie learns about sharing bathrooms and having to take care of herself. Shapley shows up by the showers and accosts her again to apologize for the previous night. Peter gives Ellie a lesson on donut dunking. A pair of detectives show up so Peter and Ellie put on an act of being a married couple. They start a big argument and the detectives fall for the act.

Peter keeps sending telegrams to his editor while her father becomes more and more frantic. He offers a $10,000 reward and sends her picture to the newspapers. Back on the bus Shapley sees the story and recognizes her. They have a little entertainment, as people on the bus, sing “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Frank Capra cast himself as the singer of the third stanza. Singing along the driver runs off the road and gets the bus stuck in the mud. A lady is knocked out and Ellie tends to her. He small son says they haven’t had anything to eat. Ellie gives Peter’s money to the family.

Outside of the bus Shapley pitches splitting the reward. Peter makes out that he is a con and they will need guns. He says he and his gang are holding her for a million-dollar reward. Shapley panics and Peter, says he might shoot him. Peter tells Shapley about Bugs Dooley opening his mouth and getting punished by the mob. Shapley runs away into the dark. Peter spits with pride until it falls on his shoulder.

Peter and Ellie leave the bus in case Shapley tells. Peter also tells her that the money she gave away is the last they had. He carries her across a stream. They bed down in a hay field for the night. Peter goes off and Ellie starts screaming thinking he has left. He returns with a bunch of carrots. As he gives her his coat for the night Peter almost kisses Ellie.

In the morning, Peter gives Ellie a lesson on hitch-hiking. He is very proud of his techniques and even says he may write about book about hitch-hiking. He fails miserably and is humiliated. Peter begins chomping on the raw carrots he collected the previous night. Finally, Ellie goes to the edge of the road and hikes her skirt to reveal her leg. The next car slams on the breaks. Colbert originally refused to show her leg but reconsidered after they used a stunt-leg. I mean a real leg attached to a real woman as a stand-in.

The car is driven by Danker (Allen Hale). He sings and drives them to a store where they sell food. Since the pair doesn’t have any money they wait outside. When they are out of the car, Danker jumps in and drives off with Peter’s luggage. Peter runs after the car and returns driving the car and has blood coming out of his temple. Peter explains that Danker robs people of their luggage and he had to leave him tied to a tree.

The pair drive along and Ellie slowly eats the carrots. Ellie’s father and King Wesley meet and the father agreed to allow them to remain married. They check into another cabin and Ellie sees the paper showing the wedding is back on. They set-up their room with the “Walls of Jericho.” That night Ellie asks Peter if they will ever see each other again. He says not and then talks about the kind of girl he would want to marry. She says she loves him and wants to go away with him. But Peter sends her back to her side of the wall. Ellie goes back to her bed sobbing and when she falls asleep Peter heads to New York. He has to sell his hat for gas money. He goes to a bar and types his story. Peter sells the story of true love to his old boss for $1,000. This is so he will have enough money to propose. He says the money is to tear down the “Walls of Jericho.”

Back at the auto-camp, the wife of the owner sees that the car is gone. They bust in on Ellie and throw her out. They won’t even let Ellie use the phone and send her to the sheriff’s office. Ellie phones her father for help. The editor finds out that Ellie has turned herself in and he thinks Peter has tricked him.

Peter is heading south in the old jalopy when he is passed by Ellie’s father heading to pick her up complete with a police escort and sirens. While stopped at a train crossing Peter sees the rescue column and Ellie heading north. He turns his car around and follows but the car finally gives out.

Peter comes back in and leaves the money with the secretary and says to tell the editor that he was just kidding. The editor sees through the lie. Peter is angry and goes to see Ellie’s father on the day of the wedding to get the $10,000 reward. Her father has talked to Ellie and he knows that his daughter doesn’t really want to marry King Westley. Ellie sees the letter from Peter and thinks he doesn’t love her.

When Peter meets with Ellie’s father all he wants is $39.60 for expenses. Peter admits he loves Ellie. The father thinks Peter is okay. Ellie and Peter have a little spat in the foyer. For the wedding, King Westley arrived in a gyrocopter.

Ellie’s father walks her down the aisle but he hasn’t given up. He tells her about the $39.60 and that Peter loves her. He tells her that her car is waiting. In front of the preacher, Ellie does the run-away-bride thing and jumps in her car.

Ellie’s father sends a check for $100,000 dollars to King Westley and the first marriage is annulled. Later he gets a telegram that the walls are crumbling. When they get the word that Ellie is no longer married, a trumpet blows and the curtain wall falls to the ground.


Spaceballs (1987), directed by Mel Brooks, is one of many films that parody or spoofed It Happened One Night (1934). When Princess Vespa is walking down the aisle, her father, King Roland, tells her that Lone Starr only asked for the cost of his trip and not the reward.

Friz Freleng one of the developers of Bugs Bunny in his unpublished memoirs stated that It Happened One Night was one of his favorite films. Freleng said that this movie contributed to the creation of Bugs Bunny in three ways. He had the personality of Shapley, the manners of Peter, eating carrots and talking quick, and the name “Bugs Dooley” as the name of the many that betrayed the mob. He also said that Ellie’s father played by Walter Connolly and King Westley played by James Thomas were the models for Yosemite Sam and Pepé Le Pew, respectively.

World-Famous Short Summary – Couple goes on an extended first date.

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Beware the moors

It Happened One Night (1934)

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