It Happened One Night (1934)

it happened one night
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert

'It Happened One Night' is a romantic comedy made in 1934, directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Although it was only a modest success on release, both commercially and critically, it has since come to be regarded as a classic, one of the finest romantic comedies ever made, with an ideal blend of great screenplay, direction and outstanding individual performances.

It was nominated for five Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Actor for Clark Gable, Best Actress for Claudette Colbert, Best Director for Frank Capra, and Best Adaptation for Robert Riskin - and won all five categories for which it was nominated. It was the first movie to achieve this feat, which was not to be repeated for 41 years when 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' won all its category nominations in 1975. On the American film Institute's list of Top 100 Movies 'It Happened One Night' is ranked at number forty-six and in 1993, the movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

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At the start of the 1930's, Columbia Pictures was still a relatively small Hollywood studio. Frank Capra was an ambitious and brilliant director and when he joined the studio in 1927 he pushed the owner, Harry Cohn, for bigger budgets and better scripts and gradually Columbia began to climb from its "Poverty Row " beginnings. The success of 'It Happened One Night' was a major factor in raising the studio to the ranks of the big players like MGM and Warners.

Frank Capra had read in Cosmopolitan magazine a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams called "Night Bus" and he persuaded Columbia to purchase the film rights for $5,000, a very cheap price. Harry Cohn demanded a title without the word "bus" as two recent "bus" films had flopped. Capra wrote the screenplay with his long time collaborator, Robert Riskin, (husband of Fay Wray). It was the fifth of eleven screenplays they wrote together.

Harry Cohn did not like having expensive stars under contract but was happy to "borrow" stars from other studios. Clark Gable was loaned to him by MGM, supposedly as a punishment for the actor daring to ask Louis B. Mayer for more money. To Capra's surprise, a number of top female stars refused the Ellie role including Myrna Loy, Miriam Hopkins, Constance Bennett and Margaret Sullavan. Capra and Robert Riskin, did a rewrite to make the leads more likable, the girl less spoiled and Peter more manly. Claudette Colbert then accepted the role only after being promised a payment of twice her normal fee.

When the filming was completed, Colbert had no confidence in the finished movie and did not even attend the Academy Awards presentation, feeling she had no chance of winning. When the film was released it was to favorable, but not rave reviews, but gradually ticket sales picked up and the movie became an acknowledged winner, and even a national obsession with theaters sold out for weeks at a time. Its success turned round the fortunes of Columbia Pictures and made it a major Hollywood studio.

The movie is generally considered to be the forerunner of the 'screwball' comedy genre, setting the pattern for many following movies such as 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'The Philadelphia Story'. The escapist theme of the movie is still appealing today and keeps the film funny for today's audiences.


The film tells the simple but effective story of an heiress, Ellie (Claudette Colbert) whose father disapproves of her recent marriage. She escapes from virtual imprisonment on her father's yacht and boards a bus for New York where she meets a smug, tough-talking newspaper reporter, Peter (Clark Gable) who has just left his job. He recognises Ellie and senses a big story for himself in the spoiled rich kid.

He and Ellie strike a bargain whereby he will help her find her husband in New York in return for an exclusive story. Their journey is series of memorable shared comical adventures and although the couple initially dislike each other, romance flowers and eventually triumphs.

Main Cast

Clark Gable ... Peter Warne
Claudette Colbert ... Ellie Andrews
Walter Connolly ... Andrews
Roscoe Karns ... Shapeley
Jameson Thomas ... Westley King
Alan Hale ... Danker
Arthur Hoyt ... Zeke
Blanche Friderici ... Zeke's Wife
Charles C. Wilson ... Gordon

The movie undoubtedly belongs to the stars, Gable and Colbert. Their acting expertise and comic timing bring the best out of each other and the witty script.
Clark Gable(1901-1960) Gable's rise to fame as "King of Hollywood" began with his brilliant performance in 'It Happened One Night" which showcased his ability to perform comedic roles.
Claudette Colbert(1903-1996) Born in Paris and brought to America aged 3, Claudette Colbert had a hugely successful movie and stage career. She is brilliant in the role of Ellie, the spoiled girl who always gets her own way.
Walter Connolly (1887-1940) Walter Connolly had a successful Broadway career before becoming one of early Hollywood's best character actors, often as an exasperated businessman or the father of the female lead character, as in 'It Happened One Night'.


Director ... Frank Capra
Producer ... Harry Cohn
Production Company ... Columbia Pictures
Story by ... Based on a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Screenplay ... Robert Riskin, Frank Capra (uncredited)
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Music ... Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers
Format ... B & W
Initial Release ... 23 February, 1934
Running Time ... 105 minutes

Academy Awards

Five Wins:
Best Picture ... Columbia
Best Director ... Frank Capra
Best Actor ... Clark Gable
Best Actress ... Claudette Colbert
Best Writing (Adaptation) ... Robert Riskin
No Unsuccessful Nominations: