It Happened One Night is my all time favourite Screwball comedy film. When I’m in need of a film to make me laugh and put me in a good mood, then this is one I always turn to. My main reason for loving this one so much is the growing relationship between Ellie and Peter; I especially love watching them go from a bickering odd couple, to a couple who are very much in love with one another.
I also love this film because it is extremely funny and features a perfect mix of slapstick comedy and verbal comedy. It also contains so many believable and likeable characters. This film always leaves me with a smile on my face because it’s such an uplifting, romantic and fun film.
I also like how our perceptions of Ellie and Peter change as the film goes on. We start off enjoying seeing Ellie get brought down to reality with a bump, then we sympathise with her and start to like her because we see that she does have a heart, and that she is a sweet and compassionate woman who can’t help the life she was born into. Peter starts off as being a selfish guy, happy being on his own and interested only in using Ellie to get a story; as the film goes on though he changes to become a much warmer man who won’t use her to get a front page story.
Seeing Ellie’s personal troubles splashed across the front page of papers, also reminds me that the rich may well be better off than most of us are, but they pay a heavy price in return for this as their private and difficult times are made into news on a regular basis.
The film is directed by Frank Capra. The film has a cracking screenplay by Robert Riskin, which is based on the short story Night Bus, written by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Frank Capra is one of my favourite directors; I like his films because they focus on everyday characters and their struggles, hopes, and their dreams. There is also a note of hope in many of Capra’s films that I quite like. In Capra’s films we see wrongs righted and evil and greedy people fought and stood up to. It Happened One Night is one of my top five Capra flicks. The other four films in my list are The Bitter Tea of General Yen, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
I am a huge fan of films, books and series which focus on relationships between people who are complete opposites slowly starting to fall for one another. This film features a couple who are one of my all time favourite opposites attract couples. I love how Ellie and Peter start out at each others throats, and then as their relationship slowly develops, they both start to realise that they can’t do without one another. I also love this one because of how perfectly Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert work together as a screen team.
Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert)is the daughter of a famous millionaire( Walter Connelly) . Ellie and her father are very famous. Following a bitter argument that they have about her relationship with her fiancé (who has the most awesome name ever), King Westley(Jameson Thomas), Ellie jumps from the family yacht and swims ashore. Running away with only a few dollars in her possession, Ellie is forced to experience life without access to her daddy’s limitless cheque book.
Boarding a bus, Ellie finds herself literally thrown together with down on his luck newspaper reporter, Peter Warne(Clark Gable). Peter instantly recognises Ellie, and he sets his sights on getting the news scoop of the season. He calls his boss at the first opportunity he gets, tells him what’s going on and to stand by for more updates. However, as they spend more time together, Peter actually finds himself starting to fall for this pampered heiress, and she ends up developing feelings for him in return. When the bus has to stop due to a road closure Ellie, Peter and the other passengers spend the night at a motel; it is at this point that the pair actually start to realise that they are in love with one another.
Clark Gable is terrific as the warm hearted Peter. He plays Peter as a guy with a tough and gruff exterior who is in reality a real sweetheart. I love how he conveys Peter’s annoyance and frustration with Ellie’s lack of understanding of how real life in depression era America works. Slowly though we see him become amused by her antics, and we then see that he is starting to become very fond of her.
I especially love Clark in the scenes where Peter is starting to get really protective of Ellie, and he looks at her with such tenderness and affection on his face. I also like how he makes Peter come across as a man more than capable of defending himself both verbally and physically. He is also believable as a man who knows how to (and enjoys) push peoples buttons and wind them up.
Claudette Colbert is hysterical as the aloof, wealthy lady learning how everyone else lives. She shows us that Ellie has no clue as to how ridiculous some of the things she says sound, such as expecting the bus driver to wait for her long past departure time at a scheduled stop, simply because she is going to take longer to come back to the bus than the others. Claudette is radiant and bubbly in this film, she reminds me quite a bit of Clara Bow. I’m certain that if this film had been made in the 1920’s, then Clara would have been the perfect gal to play Ellie.
Claudette makes you laugh, but she also makes you sympathise with Ellie because to be fair to her she has never had to fend for herself before in her life. She makes Ellie a tough gal, but also someone who is actually quite vulnerable, kind and almost childlike in a way. I love how she makes Ellie seem as though she is control of her situation even when she is far from it. Ellie also has a few surprises up her sleeve (such as the unforgettable leg reveal scene during the hitchhike sequence.)
Roscoe Karns is hysterical as an annoying and overly talkative bus passenger called Shapeley. Roscoe was always a scene stealer and he steals every scene he is in in this. He also gets to deliver my favourite line in the film: “when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles!” 🙂 It cracks me up every time I hear him say it.
Roscoe Karns as Shapeley. Screenshot by me.
Shapeley tries to chat Ellie up and has lots of fun at her expense, that is until Peter steps in and rescues her (what a knight in shining armour). Roscoe Karns has long been one of my favourite character actors and he is someone who sadly doesn’t get talked about much these days. I highly recommend you all check him out in some other films, such as Twentieth Century.
My favourite scenes are the following. Ellie and Peter’s first meeting where he falls into her lap. Peter carrying Ellie across the river. Ellie ordering a box of chocolates on the bus and getting angry when Peter cancels the order. Peter pretending to give his boss a real talking to over the phone.Peter and Ellie pretending to be an arguing married couple, I love the accent Ellie puts on in this scene.The bus singalong. Shapeley talking to Ellie on the bus. Ellie giving the little boy her money. The “take me to your island” scene. Ellie stopping traffic by showing her legs. Ellie going for a shower at the motel, only to find she has to queue up to get to the showers! Ellie running across the lawn in her wedding dress.
Peter attempting to hitch a lift. Screenshot by me.
Most unforgettable scene in the film? I’m going to have to go with the hitchhike scene. This scene has become one of the most unforgettable moments in film history. Peter makes a big thing of bragging to Ellie about how easy it will be for him to hitch them a lift. He fails every single time he waves his thumb to passing motorists.
Ellie grows tired of nobody stopping. She tells him to move over and watch how it’s done. She walks to the edge of the road, waits for a passing car, and then flashes her legs at the driver. A driver comes to a screeching halt when he gets a glimpse of leg. It cracks me up every time I see it.
Ellie shows Peter how it’s done. Screenshot by me.
What makes the scene even funnier is the look that Clark has on his face in reaction to Ellie’s leg reveal; he makes us see that to Peter, Ellie’s action has come so completely out of the blue and he didn’t think she’d ever do anything like that.
It Happened One Night truly is one of the finest Screwball comedies ever made. The comic bickering between Ellie and Peter is first class. I also bet that depression era audiences got a real kick out of seeing a rich character forced to endure what everyday life was like for the majority of people at the time. This film is timeless, I think the story could still work set in any other era because of the class and life experience difference of the main characters. I also like that the rich characters are not depicted as being nasty or perfect, they have their troubles and flaws just like the rest of us.
Below are some facts and a legend about the film.
- Colbert didn’t enjoy making this film, but her performance here won her the Best Actress Oscar in 1935. She was very surprised when she actually won this award.
- The film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor(Clark Gable) and Best Screenplay.
- The scene where Clark Gable takes off his shirt to reveal he is bare chested, led to a large decline in the sale of men’s undershirts from this point on in America.
Are you also a fan of this film? Then please leave your thoughts below.
Never seen this before? Buy your bus ticket, head for the station and get on board. Prepare for laughter, tears and a trip that you won’t forget in a hurry.