In It Happened One Night spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has eloped with pilot and fortune-hunter King Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her wealthy father. He wants to have the marriage annulled because he knows Westley is really only interested in her money. He tries to keep Ellie aboard his yacht, but she jumps overboard and boards a bus to New York City to reunite with her husband. She meets fellow bus passenger Peter Warne (Clark Gable) a out-of-work newspaper reporter. Soon Warne recognizes her and gives her a choice: If she will give him an exclusive on her story, he will help her reunite with Westley. If not, he will tell her father where she is. Ellie agrees to to give him the exclusive.
The trailer of It Happened One Night:
Claudette Colbert – Ellie Andrews
Clark Gable – Peter Warne
Jameson Thomas – King Westley
Walter Connolly – Alexander Andrews
Roscoe Karns – Oscar Shapeley
Alan Hale – Danker
Arthur Hoyt – Zeke
Blanche Friderici – Zeke’s wife
-The movie was based on the short story Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which was also the shooting title during production.
-Constance Bennett, Myrna Loy and Carole Lombard, among others, turned the movie down. Claudette Colbert only agreed under the condition that her salary would be doubled and filming would be done in four weeks so she could go on vacation. Clark Gable did not particularly want do the film either: his studio MGM reportedly lent him out to minor studio Columbia as punishment because he had rejected one of their films.
–It Happened One Night was shot right before the infamous Hays Code, which forbade explicit references to sex. Because of this the film was one of the last to including ‘racy’ scenes, like Claudette Colbert showing her leg while hitchhiking, Clark Gable undressing and sexual innuendo.
-For the filming of the famous ‘hitchhiking scene’ Claudette Colbert initially refused to expose her leg because she felt it wasn’t ladylike. But after she saw her body double, she changed her mind, insisting: ‘That’s not my leg!’.
-Because Clark Gable did not wear an undershirt in the film, which men usually did in those days, sales of undershirts reportedly dropped significantly after the release of It Happened One Night.
–It Happened One Night was the first film to get an Oscar ‘grand slam’. Which meant they won in the five top categories of the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. This would later also be done by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
-Claudette Colbert was so convinced that she wouldn’t win the Oscar, that she didn’t even bother to attend the ceremony. She was already at the train station to go on a vacation when someone from her studio came to take her to the Academy Awards so she could pick up her Oscar. Which she did while still wearing her travelling suit.
-Clark Gable gave his Oscar for It Happened One Night to a child who had admired it. He said that it wasn’t owning the statue that mattered, but winning it. The child returned the Oscar to the Gable family after Clark’s death. Eventually the statue went up for auction in the 90’s. Steven Spielberg then purchased it and donated it back to the Academy.
-The character of Peter Warne was the inspiration for Bugs Bunny. Particularly, the way he leaned against a tree and the way he ate a carrot while talking fast.
-The last surviving cast member was its star Claudette Colbert, who died in 1996 at the age of 92. She was surprised at its lasting popularity and reputation as a classic, as neither she nor Clark Gable wanted to make the film. But she credited director Frank Capra with ‘making magic’ out of a simple story and said that he had created the ‘romantic comedy’ genre by making It Happened One Night.
Best Picture – It Happened One Night – 1935 Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actress – Claudette Colbert – 1935 Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actor – Clark Gable – 1935 Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Director – Frank Capra – 1935 Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Screenplay – Robert Riskin – 1935 Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
It Happened One Night was not expected to do well, so not much promotion was done around the film. It became a success simply through word of mouth of the audience who loved it. When It Happened One Night was released, in 1934, the Great Depression had taken hold of America. The light-heartedness, fun and romance in the film was just what the audience needed. At the same time, the storyline did not shy away from mentioning hunger and class differences, which were things the audience could relate to.
The studio that made the film, Columbia, was known for smaller films, which were never huge successes. It Happened One Night turned Colombia from a small studio, which bigger studios lent their stars out to when they wanted to punish them, to a respected and successful studio. For Clark Gable, It Happened One Night made him a huge star. After the release of the film and his subsequent Oscar win, he could do no wrong and was nicknamed ‘the King of Hollywood’.
It Happened One Night is seen as the first real romantic comedy film as well as the first screwball comedy. It was certainly groundbreaking and influential: It Happened One Night has been remade countless of times in many forms. Still, none of them can compare to the beloved classic.
Read more about Clark Gable’s life.