It Happened One Night (1934)
Release Date: February 22, 1934
Directed by: Frank Capra
On DVD through from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Now an essential classic and considered the first screwball comedy, It Happened One Night is the prime example of a sleeper hit. Produced by the “Siberia” of studios by an un-appreciated director and performed by two stars against their will, it seems an unlikely entry into Academy Award history. But with a snappy screenplay and chemistry that burned through the screen, it indeed earns its place in history. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon realizes her identity and befriends her so he can get the exclusive story. Along the way, after masquerading as man and wife at an auto camp, sleeping in a field, hitch hiking and stealing a car, they fall in love. When Peter leaves Ellie at a motel in the middle of the night to try and get some money from his old boss to marry her, she mistakenly thinks he has left her for good and calls her father (Connolly) and husband to pick her up. Peter is heartbroken and so is Ellie. She agrees to her father’s wishes that she re-marry her husband, since they were not married by a priest. On her re-wedding day, Peter shows up to collect money from her father for what he spent on her during the trip. He admits to her father that he loves her. Her father tells Ellie and as she is going down the aisle, she takes off to be with Peter. Due to scheduling conflicts, the final scene of their reunion was shot without them, but it is stated that they married after she is granted an annulment from her husband.
Here is romance, garnished with lots of laughs.The love story concerns Ellie (Claudette Colbert), an heiress, and Peter (Clark Gable), a newspaper reporter out of a job. They meet on a night bus. Ellie, traveling incognito, is running away from her father (Walter Connolly), to join a worthless young man she has recently married.For financial reasons, the journey of Ellie and Peter, from Miami to New York, resolves itself into hitchhiking. They stay in tourist cabins at night, and Peter properly hangs a blanket (which he names, “The Walls of Jericho”) between them. While Ellie sleeps, Peter leaves her to rush ahead to New York and sell the story of her adventures to his ex-editor for $1,000. He returns to help Ellie with this money, but she, believing he has deserted her, brings about a complication in which her husband figures.However, in the end, the conniving father rescues the romance, and the picture winds up hilariously with “the Walls of Jericho” being blown down.Clark Gable’s at his best, yet at winning new honors for himself, he steals nothing from Claudette.The picture has a rare quality of camaraderie with the audience–permitting those watching it to share the experiences and fun of the players. Skillfully directed.
Crisp dialogue and comedy with a fine dramatic punch combine to make this one of the most thoroughly enjoyable pieces of human drama ever put upon the screem. Clark Gable, newspaperman, aids Claudette Colbert to escape a marriage forced upon her by her father. From that point events move swiftly to a joyful conclusion. Leads outstanding with Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns distinguishing themselves in supporting roles. Frank Capra, director, has turned out a hit picture which you must not miss.
Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, who strike up acquaintance on bus from Miami to New York, have an adventurous trip, indeed. A gay, well-directed film. (April)
Screenland magazine, May 1934:
And why hasn’t it happened before, I’d like to know? I mean the co-starring of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert? What a team! And what a chance they have in this charming romantic comedy so skillfully directed by Columbia’s megaphone ace, Frank Capra. Claudette plays with verve and imagination the slightly impish daughter of millionaire Walter Connolly. She marries, to please the plot, the wrong man, only to encounter Clark Gable later on—but in time to afford all of us some of the best light screen entertainment in months. Gable as a carefree reporter has a robust role, and how he plays it! There’s a nice spirit about the entire picture. It’s a good thing for a hero and heroine from two different companies to be borrowed by still a third company–it gives ‘em all a gay spontaneity; there’s a holiday note to “It Happened One Night.” May it happen often! Thanks, Columbia, for an inspiration. Cheers for Claudette and Clark. She never looked lovelier. He never made nicer love. Consequences, grand entertainment!
“In a pig’s eye you will!” first line
“Hey listen monkey face, when you fired me, you fired the best newshound your filthy scandal sheet ever had!”
“That was free verse, you gashouse polluka!”
“It’s a long story, my friend. I never did like sitting on newspapers. I did it once and all the headlines came off on my white pants. On the level, it actually happened! Nobody bought a paper that day, they just followed me around all over town and read the news on the seat of my pants!”
“Listen partner, you may not like my nose but I do! I always wear it out in the open where if anyone wants to take a sock at it, they can do it!”
“Remember me? I’m the fellow you slept on last night.”
“If you’re nursing any silly notion that I’m interested in you, forget it. You’re just a headline to me.”
“I like privacy when I retire. Yes, I’m very delicate in that respect. Prying eyes annoy me.”
“Behold the walls of Jericho! Maybe not as thick as the ones that Joshua blew down with his trumpet, but a lot safer.”
“Perhaps you’re interested in how a man undresses. You know, it’s a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology, no two men do it alike. You know, I once knew a man who kept his hat on until he was completely undressed. Yeah, now he made a picture. Years later his secret came out—he wore a toupee. Yeah. No, I have a method all my own. If you notice the coat came first then the tie then the shirt. Now, uh, according to hoyle, after that the pants should be next. Here’s where I’m different. I go for the shoes next. First the right then the left. After that it’s every man for himself.”
“Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf..SHE’S afraid of the big bad wolf…tra la la la la…”
“Who me? I’m the whippermill that cries in the night, I’m the soft morning breeze that caresses your lovely face.”
“What makes you so disgustingly cheerful this morning?”
“Where’d you learn to dunk, finishing school?”
“Dunking’s an art! Don’t let it soak so long. A dip and pop into your mouth. You let it hang there too long it’ll get soft and fall off. It’s all a matter of timing. I’ll write a book about it.”
“Once a plumber’s daughter, always a plumber’s daughter!”
“Quit bawlin’! Quit bawlin’!”
“I bet there isn’t a good piggy back rider in your whole family. I never knew a rich man yet who could piggy back ride.”
“You can’t be hungry and scared both at the same time. If you’re scared, it scares the hunger out of you.”
“Holy smoke, why did I ever get mixed up with you?”
“Taking a married woman back to her husband–I turned out to be the prize sucker!”
“Holy jumping catfish, you drive a guy crazy!”
“I was just wondering what makes dames like you so dizzy.”
“That old thumb never fails!”
“Keep your eye on that thumb baby and see what happens!”
“Why didn’t you take off all your clothes, you could have stopped forty cars.”
“I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week!”
“When anybody takes me for a buggy ride, I don’t like the idea of paying for the privilege!”
“Any guy that would fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined.”
“What she needs is a guy who’d take a sock at her once a day whether it’s coming to her or not!”
“A normal human being couldn’t live under the same roof as her without going nutty! She’s my idea of nothing!”
“Yes! But don’t hold that against me, I’m a little screwy myself!”
“I would but I’ve got a weak stomach!” last line
Gable won his only Academy Award for this film; his first nomination. It Happened One Night was the first film to sweep the main categories of the awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Only two films have accomplished the feat since: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs.
Gable was loaned to Columbia, the “poverty row” of studios, to make this film, as punishment for rejecting scripts and dallying with Joan Crawford. He was very displeased and showed up to his first meeting with director Frank Capra drunk. Frank grew frustrated and said, “Mr. Gable, you and I are supposed to make a picture out of this. Shall I tell you the story or would you rather read the script yourself?” Gable retorted drunkenly, “Buddy, I don’t give a fuck what you do with it.” Capra later recalled, “…the metamorphosis of Clark Gable, the “bad boy” exiled to Siberia…It took him a day or two to get over his “burn”, but when he did he had the time of his life. I still believe it was the only picture in which Gable was allowed to play himself: the fun-loving, boyish, attractive, he-man rogue that was the real Gable.”
This was animator Fritz Freleng’s favorite film. He modeled some of his most famous cartoon characters after characters in the film. Gable was the inspiration for Bugs Bunny, from talking fast and munching on carrots (also the name Bugs came from Gable mentioning Bugs Dooley), Walter Connolly was the inspiration for Yosemite Sam and Jameson Thomas was the inspiration for Pepe LePew.