It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934)

“I had you pegged from the jump: just a spoiled brat of a rich father.”

A spoiled heiress (Claudette Colbert) whose controlling father (Walter Connolly) disapproves of her recent elopement with an aviator (Jameson Thomas) runs away, and is discovered by a reporter (Clark Gable) hoping for a big story. As they travel together, they gradually fall in love — but Colbert’s new husband is waiting for her.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Hale Films
  • Clark Gable Films
  • Claudette Colbert Films
  • Frank Capra Films
  • Heiresses
  • Journalists
  • Love Triangle
  • Road Trip
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Runaways

Response to Peary’s Review:
Frank Capra’s screwball fairy tale — which swept all of that year’s five major Oscars — is, as Peary notes, a “super” film with many special “small moments” (who can forget the “Walls of Jericho”, or Gable and Colbert trading hitchhiking tips?). Unlike most of Capra’s later work, It Happened One Night is decidedly un-preachy; while it offers astute observations on issues of class and gender, none of these “lessons” are hammered over our heads. Colbert was reportedly unhappy with being cast in the film, but her implicit disdain works well for her character; and Gable — with his wisecracking, cynical demeanor — is perfectly cast as the tippling reporter who finds himself falling for Ellie despite his better judgment. A personal favorite of many, It Happened One Night is certainly must see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Clark Gable as wisecracking Peter Warne
  • Claudette Colbert as strongheaded Ellie (nominated by Peary as Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book)
  • Roscoe Karns as an obnoxious bus passenger trying to sweet-talk Colbert: “Well, shut my big, nasty mouth!”
  • Gable scaring Karns by posing as a gangster
  • The infamous “walls of Jericho” scene
  • Peter attempting to show Ellie how hitchhiking “should” be done
  • An entire bus bursting into song with “That Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”
  • Joseph Walker’s gorgeous cinematography

Must See?
Yes. This classic romantic comedy has held up remarkably well, and should be seen by every film fanatic. Nominated by Peary as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book (though he ultimately chooses The Scarlet Empress instead).


  • Genuine Classic
  • Historically Relevant
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “It Happened One Night (1934)

  1. Having just seen this again after (probably) much too long a time, I’m (I’ll admit it) smitten. To a degree. Certainly enough for it to be a must.

    Near the end of ‘IHON’, we get a deliciously funny exchange between Colbert and Connolly re: Gable – [so what if this is a spoiler; you know going into the pic that it’s a love story]

    Colbert: I don’t know very much about him…except that I love him.
    Connolly: Well, if it’s as serious as all that, we’ll move heaven and earth –
    Colbert: No, it’s no use. He despises me.
    Connolly: Oh, come now…
    Colbert: Yes, he does. He despises everything about me. He says that I’m spoiled and selfish and pampered and thoroughly insincere.
    Connolly: Oh-ho…ridiculous.
    Colbert: He doesn’t think so much of you either.
    Connolly: Well, I –
    Colbert: And he blames you for everything that’s wrong with me. He says you raised me stupidly.
    Connolly: Now that’s a fine man to fall in love with.
    Colbert: Oh, he’s marvelous.

    But I suppose Gable gets the best line: when Connolly repeatedly asks him whether he loves Colbert, Gable is finally forced to admit that he does –

    Gable: Yes! But don’t hold that against me; I’m a little screwy myself!

    Though I still can’t say ‘IHON’ is among my favorite films, there are two sequences that have me roaring: in the first, C (complete with hilarious accent) & G suddenly pretend to be a battling couple to throw off private detectives; in the second, Gable seems to suddenly (and brilliantly) turn the film into a drama when he convinces opportunist Roscoe Karns that he’s the leader of a kidnapping scheme.

    ‘IHON’ is in a group of films like ‘Bringing Up Baby’, ‘Roman Holiday’, etc., in which polar-opposite types face one difficulty after another before they finally realize they’re made for each other. That’s why the end of such films is always of less importance: we want to know just how intriguing the complications along the way will be. And, in ‘IHON’, they’re quite satisfying.

    I agree that the film (thankfully) lacks the preachiness of the ‘typical’ Capra film. And, if you look at the other 11 (!) films nominated for Best Picture that year, it certainly towers over them. It’s swift-moving (with its very compact script), racy (!) and vastly entertaining – with two top-notch performers leading the way. (You’d never guess that Colbert was at all hesitant about anything in this endeavor. That’s what’s called ‘being a pro’!)

    While I wouldn’t go back to this as often as, say, ‘Bringing Up Baby’ (which I prefer for its sheer wackiness), I know I’ll go back to it again someday – and no doubt love it all over again.

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