It Happened One Night Put Columbia on the Map

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. Courtesy of Sony.

It Happened One Night is one of three films to win the Big Five at the Academy Awards and put Columbia Pictures on the map.

Originally titled Night Bus, the film is based on the short story, “Night Bus,” by Samuel Hopkins Adams in Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan (August 1933).

Until the film swept every nominated category at the Oscars, Columbia Pictures had been a Poverty Row studio. Everything would change in light of the Oscar wins. The film’s success came as a surprise to some of the principals involved. Put it this way: Claudette Colbert did not want to attend the Academy Awards ceremony!

When spoiled heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (Claudette Colbert) elopes with King Westley (Jameson Thomas), her father, Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly), threatens to annul the marriage. Ellie ends up taking a Greyhound bus in order to get back to her husband. Unlike the way, unemployed newspaper reporter Peter Warne befriends her. Of course, he’s thinking about himself as he offers some options: give him the exclusive or he’ll tell her father. Ellie ends up helping him. After the bus leaves them behind, they hitchhike and spend the night at hotels and lodges. They eventually fall in love but things soon become chaotic when she thinks Peter is only in it for the reward money. Meanwhile, Alexander and King come around. This forces Peter to rush back and find Ellie. He doesn’t but he does tell his side of the story to her father.

Everything climaxes on the wedding day when Alexander tells Ellie that Peter turned down the $10,000 reward. Peter only wants to be reimbursed for the items sold in order to buy gas. She chooses to leave King at the altar and drives away. For Peter and Ellie, it’s a happy ending at the motel as the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Imagine the film starring Robert Montgomery or the likes of Myrna Loy, Margaret Sullavan, Miriam Hopkins,  Constance Bennett, or Bette Davis. In another universe, it might. Some had conditions or they were unable to get lent out from their studio at the time. Claudette Colbert, who ended up taking the role, wanted a raise ($50K) and to finish filming in four weeks time. She and Frank Capra had previously worked together but it wasn’t the best experience. Hollywood legend suggests Clark Gable’s casting as punishment by MGM but recent sources say otherwise. Depending by which one you believe, MGM didn’t have anything for Gable and lent him for the film. In any event, neither were happy with the initial script, leading Robert Riskin to rewrite it.

You would not know of any issues taking place while filming from watching the film. The chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert exactly what filmmakers want for any film. Gable, even in his pre-Gone with the Wind days, is clearly a king in his own right. One of the most surprising things about Gable’s legacy in the film: inspiring animators when it came to creating Bugs Bunny. Other than the outside locations, everything is on a basic set–they reuse the hotel set for multiple locations.

It Happened One Night‘s release came just a few months before the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America–today’s MPA–started enforcing the Production Code. As a result, the film is one of the final pre-Code romantic comedies. Funny enough, the film features sex scenes without kissing or sex in general. All such scenes are taking place off-screen. But even for a pre-Code film, they still have unconventional ways in how they approach a relationship. Could they make this film today? They could try but it would not be the same.

Years after its 1934 theatrical release and Oscar wins, the American Film Institute would honor the film in a number of categories. Even as I type my review, It Happened One Night remains one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made. The film is notable for being one of the first screwball comedy films–a term originating in baseball because the genre manages to go in a different direction than one expects. Ellie figures out her attraction to Peter well before he realizes it. Look at any screwball comedy and it’s usually the women knowing what they want before the men do. When it comes to romantic comedies in the sound era, Hollywood has filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch for leading the way.

It Happened One Night is available in the third volume of the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection. The picture was digitally restored back in 2013 and is free of dirt, tears, scratches, etc. As for the audio, it is what it is for having been produced when it was. But anyway, the film’s presentation couldn’t look more beautiful for approaching its 90th anniversary next year.

Disc Breakdown

4K Ultra HD Includes:

  • Feature presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision
  • Original Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
  • NEW: YOU CAN’T RUN AWAY FROM IT – 1956 remake of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, starring June Allyson and Jack Lemmon. Newly remastered in HD!

Blu-ray Includes:

  • Feature presented in high definition, sourced from the 4K master
    • Original Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Audio Commentary featuring Frank Capra, Jr.
  • Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers It Happened One Night Featurette
  • Screwball Comedy? Featurette
  • Original Live Radio Broadcast
  • Advertising Materials
  • Theatrical Trailer

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
CAST: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, with Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas, Alan Hale, Arthur Hoyt, Blanche Friderici, Charles C. Wilson

Columbia released It Happened One Night in theaters on February 23, 1934. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.