Eighty-six years ago today, the film It Happened One Night premiered. It set the framework for the entire Screwball Comedy genre. It was the first film to win all the major Academy Awards (“The Big Five”) and it didn’t happen again for 41 years. You need to see this film.
Title: It happened One Night
Directed by: Frank Capra
Produced by: Frank Capra, Harry Cohn
Screenplay by: Robert Riskin
Story by: Samuel Hopkins Adams
Based on: “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
Music by: Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Edited by: Gene Havlick
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: February 22, 1934
Running time: 105 minutes
Box office: $2,500,000
Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Writing/Adaptation
Spoiled heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews has eloped with pilot and fortune-hunter King Westley against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father, Alexander Andrews, who wants to have the marriage annulled because he knows that Westley is really interested only in Ellie’s money. Jumping ship in Florida, Ellie runs away and boards a Greyhound bus to New York City to reunite with her husband. She meets fellow passenger Peter Warne, a newspaper reporter who recently lost his job. Soon, Peter recognizes her and gives her a choice. If she gives 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 the first choice.
As they go through several adventures together, Ellie loses her initial disdain for Peter and begins to fall in love. When the bus breaks down and they hitchhiking, they fail to secure a ride until Ellie displays a shapely leg to Danker, the next driver. When they stop en route, Danker tries to steal their luggage, but Peter chases him down and seizes his Model T. Near the end of their journey, Ellie confesses her love to Peter. The owners of the motel in which they stay notice that that Peter’s car is gone and so expel Ellie. Believing Peter has deserted her, Ellie telephones her father, who agrees to let her marry Westley. Meanwhile, Peter has obtained money from his editor to marry Ellie but he misses her on the road. Although Ellie has no desire to be with Westley, she believes that Peter has betrayed her for the reward money and so agrees to have a second, formal wedding with Westley.
On the wedding day, she finally reveals the whole story to her father. When Peter comes to Ellie’s home, Andrews offers him the reward money, but Peter insists on being paid only his expenses, a paltry $39.60 for items that he had been forced to sell to buy gasoline. When Andrews presses Peter for an explanation of his odd behavior and demands to know if he loves her, Peter first tries to dodge the questions but then admits that he loves Ellie and storms out. Westley arrives for his wedding via an autogyro, but at the ceremony, Andrews reveals to his daughter about Peter’s refusal of the reward money and tells her that her car is waiting by the back gate in case she changes her mind. At he last minute, just before she says “I do”, she decides not to go through with the wedding. Ellie dumps Westley at the altar, bolts for her car, and drives away as the newsreel cameras crank.
A few days later, Andrews is working at his desk when Westley calls to tell him that he will take the financial settlement and not contest the annulment. His executive assistant brings him a telegram from Peter: “What’s holding up the annulment, you slowpoke? The walls of Jericho are toppling!” That is a reference to a makeshift wall to give them privacy made of a blanket over a wire that was tied across the rooms that they slept in between them. With the annulment in hand, Andrews sends the reply, “Let ’em topple.”
The last scene has Peter’s battered Model T parked in a motor court in Glen Falls, Michigan. The mom-and-pop owners talk and wonder why, on such a warm night, the newlyweds (he had seen the marriage license) wanted a clothesline, an extra blanket, and the little tin trumpet that he had gotten for them. As they look at the cabin, the toy trumpet sounds a fanfare, the blanket falls to the floor, and the lights in the cabin go out.