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Spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is furious because her marriage to fortune-hunter King Westley (Jameson Thomas) is opposed by her millionaire father Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly). In protest, Ellie flees her father's home in Miami and hops aboard a night bus to take her to New York City for a romantic elopement with Westley. It is during her bus ride that she encounters recently fired reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who connives to win her confidence and in the process land a front page story on the famous runaway heiress. But Ellie and Peter's journey on the road to New York City is full of unexpected detours and surprises.

Director: Frank Capra
Producer: Harry Cohn
Screenplay: Robert Riskin (based on the story, "Night Bus," by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
Editor: Gene Havlick
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Costume Design: Robert Kalloch
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Louis Silvers
Principal Cast: Claudette Colbert (Ellie Andrews), Clark Gable (Peter Warne), Roscoe Karns (Oscar Shapeley), Henry Wadsworth (Drunk Boy), Claire McDowell (Mother), Walter Connolly (Alexander Andrews), Alan Hale (Danker).


A runaway heiress meets a poor but charming newspaper reporter while she's on the lam, antipathy turns to love, and they encounter an assortment of oddball characters. It's the ideal premise for a screwball comedy, and has been the basis for many of them. But none did it better than the original, It Happened One Night (1934), the film that's credited with inventing the genre. Director Frank Capra often said that the making of It Happened One Night would have made a pretty good screwball comedy in itself. Consider the elements: two irascible studio bosses, an impossibly fast schedule, a couple of spoiled stars who didn't want to make the picture and are hostile to the harried director - yet somehow they manage to produce an enduring classic.

It Happened One Night is the film that established Frank Capra's reputation as one of the screen's greatest directors. He had been trying to raise his stock with a series of ambitious projects at Columbia Pictures, none of which made him a sought-after talent. This film's unexpected success did the trick. It also made him one of the few Hollywood directors whose name was recognized by the public.

The film also established Clark Gable's star persona. He was already on the rise at MGM, where his sex appeal was being exploited in a series of roles as gangsters and gigolos. But he was tiring of such casting, which ironically led to the clash with studio head Louis B. Mayer that resulted in his being punished with a loan to Columbia to make It Happened One Night. Frank Capra brought out the real Gable in his performance, establishing the breezy, wise-cracking but self-assured common man he would play for the rest of his career.

Claudette Colbert's legs and Clark Gable's chest were the sensations of It Happened One Night. In the motel room scene, Gable demonstrates how a man undresses. When he took off his shirt, he wore no undershirt. Capra explained that the reason for this was that there was no way Gable could take off his undershirt gracefully, but once audiences saw Gable's naked torso, sales of men's undershirts plummeted. The rest of Gable's simple wardrobe - Norfolk jacket, v-neck sweater, and trench coat -- also became a men's fashion fad. Thereafter, Gable wore a trench coat in most of his films, considering it his lucky garment.

The reviews for It Happened One Night were excellent, but no one really expected much from the film. After a slow opening, it received great word-of-mouth, and the film picked up steam at the box office. James Harvey, in his book Romantic Comedy In Hollywood, believes that the film succeeded because the couple transcended their stock characters. "There was some kind of new energy in their style: slangy, combative, humorous, unsentimental - and powerfully romantic. Audiences were bowled over by it."

At Oscar time, It Happened One Night surprised the industry when it was nominated in all five major categories, and stunned everyone when it won them all: Best Actor, Actress, Picture, Director, and Screenplay. It was the first-ever sweep of the awards, a feat that would not be repeated for another 40 years, until One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, which shows you something about the changing taste of moviegoers.

by Scott McGee, Frank Miller and Margarita Landazuri

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