“Well, I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.”
It Happened One Night is hands down one of the best films ever made. The proof is in the fact that it won every Academy Award it was nominated for. Even further proof is that you are truly entertained by the story and the characters from beginning the end.
The plot is very simple there really is no need to go into too much detail: Rich girl Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) wants to marry a man her domineering and controlling father does not want her to. She jumps off their yacht and runs away to New York by bus. Also traveling to the city is Peter Warne (Clark Gable) a newspaper reporter who had just been fired. Peter sees that Ellie needs a little help on the bus and he lets her sit next to him. Ellie is not happy by any means to be sitting next to him but it is the only spot left. She adorably falls asleep on him during the all night drive.
At the next stop Ellie wants to go somewhere but she misses the bus. Peter has waited for her because he senses she is in some sort of a jam and offers to help her. Not long later he finds out who Ellie really is and calls his boss telling him he has an exclusive scoop on Ellie and her odyssey to get to her loved one in New York. Two nights later their bus crashes and one of the passengers who has been sweet on Ellie tells Peter he knows who she is. Peter scares the guy off by telling him he is part of the mafia and has Ellie kidnapped. Now to make sure no one finds her out Peter tells Ellie they have to go on the run.
Along the way to New York they bicker and fight but fall in love.
This has two of the most iconic scenes in film history: the “wall of Jericho” and the hitchhiking one. The “walls of Jericho” scene is so fantastic because it is sexy, not sexy in what we think of the word today but still it just oozes so much of the word. When their bus gets stuck at a bridge during a bad storm the passengers spend the night at a small motel. Peter and Ellie have been pretending they are married so they stay in the same room. To be polite (and after all this is the 1930s and even if it is a pre-code there still needed to be some decency) Peter hangs up a blanket between the beds which he calls the wall of Jericho. Ellie wants to leave but he is not letting his story get away so he has her trapped. She will not move to her side so to get her over he starts to undress and just as he goes to take his pants off she runs over. During this entire scene you can feel the sexual tension between them even though at this point they do not like each other too much. I love the part where Ellie is changing into a pair if pajamas Peter loans her and she takes off her chemise and underwear and throws them over the “wall”. Peter gets a little either embarrassed or hot under the collar and asks her to take them down! The hitchhiking scene is a film scene that everyone should know no matter if you like old films or not it is one of those scenes that everyone has at least seen a picture of if not the actual clip. Peter and Ellie by this point are really ruffing it the night before they slept on a pile of hay and they have been walking for hours. Ellie has had it she needs a rest so Peter tells her his many techniques of hitchhiking. As the cars come none of them stop for Peter. Ellie gets up, hikes her skirt to her knees, sticks out her leg, and the first car to come by stops dead! Peter’s reaction is so funny and Ellie just takes in stride, she knew what she was doing.
I also died laughing when the police come looking for Ellie at the motel. They improvise being a couple who are fighting like off the top of their heads they come up with one of the funniest arguments ever. The only way the police do not know who she is is because she brushes her hair over her face and makes it look messy. Also their “personal” argument makes the cops uncomfortable.
Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable are not the first actors I would think of when it comes to 1930s screwball comedy. I would never think either one of them would let alone be in one of the greatest screwballs of all time. Colbert had the perfect 1930s tough girl attitude. All her wisecracks and comebacks are brilliant. Gable was hysterical. The absolute best thing about him being in this film is that Louis B. Mayer sent Gable over to Columbia as punishment since the studio was not a giant like MGM for not wanting to make a film that was lined up for him. Well Gable, Frank Capra, and Columbia certainly stuck it to Mayer when the film became an unexpected success.
It Happened One Night is so much fun to watch. I can remember the first time I sat through it a few years ago. My little brother was watching it with me, at first he thought I was nuts because it was in black and white and the humor is a little corny but when I had to pause it since it was late at night when I started watching the film he asked me if we could finish it the next day he thought it was funny. That was the thing with Frank Capra he made films for everyone to enjoy and to be able to relate to (not that my brother could relate to the situation but he understood it). Capra made a film where people could forget their problems for an hour and forty-five minutes.
It Happened One Night is one of the greatest screwball comedies and pre-codes ever made. The characters are light, likeable, and funny and the story is moves at a fast enjoyable pace. These factors made It Happened One Night one of the most perfect films ever made.