Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night”

It Happened One Night (1934) is an American romantic comedy directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The supporting cast includes Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, and Alan Hale. The film was produced by Capra and Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn. The script was written by Robert Riskin. The cinematography was by Joseph Walker (The Awful Truth, It’s a Wonderful Life, Born Yesterday).

Heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (Colbert) has eloped with King Westley (Jameson Thomas), a fortune-hunting pilot, against her rich industrialist father Alexander Andrews’s (Walter Connolly) wishes. Ellie’s father wants to have the wedding annulled but Ellie has other plans. Ellie runs away from her father and takes a bus to New York City to reunite with Wesley. On the bus, Ellie meets Peter Warne (Gable), a newspaper reporter who just lost his job. When he realizes that he’s traveling with the runaway heiress, Warne makes a deal with Ellie that he will keep quiet and not expose her identity if she gives him an exclusive on her love story with Wesley. If she doesn’t, Peter will tell her father where she is.

As the two traveling companions evade her father and his detectives, they fall in love.

Will Peter and Ellie be able to sustain their love, or will Ellie’s father and King Wesley have something to say about it?


Frank Capra (1897 - 1991) was an American film director, producer, and writer. During the 1930s and 1940s, Capra’s films were among the most popular and awarded films. By 1938, Capra has won three Best Director Academy Awards. Born in Italy, Capra immigrated to the United States with his family when he was five years old. By sheer determination and his self-described cockiness, Capra talked his way into the movie business. He found a great home at “Poverty Row” studio, Columbia Pictures. At Columbia he had a major success with It Happened One Night (1934), which swept all the major categories at the Academy Awards that year. This helped turn Columbia Pictures from a Poverty Row studio into a major one. Other Capra successes include You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Clark Gable (1901 – 1960) was an American film actor. Gable was one of the most consistent box office stars in the history of movies. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the landmark romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934) directed by Frank Capra. As “The King” of Hollywood, Gable starred alongside some of the biggest female stars of their day including Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, Norma Shearer, and Ava Gardner. Gable received two additional Best Actor nominations for Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Gone With the Wind (1939), one of the biggest money-makers of all time. Gables third wife was the legendary Carole Lombard. Gable married Lombard in 1939 and ended with her tragic death in a plane crash in 1942. Other Gable films include San Francisco (1937), Test Pilot (1938), Boom Town (1940), Honky Tonk (1941), Command Decision (1948), Teacher’s Pet (1958), It Started in Naples (1960), and The Misfits (1961), his last film before his death at 59.

Claudette Colbert (1903 -1996) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She is perhaps best known for her role as Ellie Andrews in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). For her role in that film, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was nominated two other times in that category. Colbert got her start in the theater where she played a variety of ingenue roles. In 1928, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures where she quickly made a succession of movies. Her breakout role came in 1932 in The Sign of the Cross (1932) starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton. In 1934, she made three films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Imitation of Life, Cleopatra, and the eventual winner, It Happened One Night. No one had been able to match that record. Other popular films include I Met Him in Paris (1937), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Midnight (1939), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Since You Went Away (1944), and The Egg and I (1947).


It Happened One Night trivia

  • Both Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert didn’t want to make the film. Gable was on loan to Columbia Pictures, which was considered a punishment by the star. Columbia was a minor studio, part of  “poverty row.” Colbert had worked with Frank Capra on a silent film, which wasn’t a pleasant or successful experience.
  • At first, Colbert refused to show her leg in the hitchhiking scene. When she saw the body double’s leg, she changed her mind saying, “That’s not my leg!”
  • It was the first film to win the top five Academy Award categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. The other films to win the Oscar “grand slam” are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Constance Bennett and Myrna Loy turned down the script. Colbert only agreed to do the picture because Capra agreed to double her salary and not be required to work for more than four weeks. Bette Davis wanted the role of Ellie, but Warner Bros. wouldn’t loan her to Columbia. Miriam Hopkins, Margaret Sullivan, and Carole Lombard also turned down the role.
  • Robert Montgomery and Fredric March both turned down the role of Peter Warne.                             

Click here to watch the film on YouTube.

Click here to join the discussion on December 4, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to join the discussion on Zoom.


Discussion questions

  1. Some critics consider the film a screwball comedy. Would you put it in that category?
  2. This film basically wrote the template for all romantic comedy films that came after it. Do you know any modern romantic comedies that owe a debt to It Happened One Night?
  3. What did you think of the chemistry between Gable and Colbert? Was it believable?
  4. Did you have a favorite scene or line of dialogue?
  5. Considered one of the best films ever made, do you think its reputation is well deserved?

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