January 2014 Blind Spot: It Happened One Night (1934)

ItHappenedOneNightPoster

Ok, it’s my first Blind Spot Film of the year. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see this one, as it came highly recommended by so many people. The main draw for me here is to see Clark Gable in something other than Gone With the Wind as that’s the only film I’ve seen him in. It’s also the second Frank Capra film since It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I noticed how similar the storyline is to Roman Holiday, but instead of a princess, the female protagonist is a spoiled heiress who’s running away from her father (Walter Connolly) who disapproves  her nuptial to a society aviator. Claudette Colbert has quite a spunk as Ellie Andrews, though I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to her as her character is such a brat. At one point her dad slaps her and she certainly had it coming. Ellie promptly jumps off her dad’s yacht and later catches a bus to New York City to return to her husband. And that’s where the ‘meet cute’ happens.

ItHappenedOneNight_pic1

Gable’s Peter Warne is an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He’s made quite an effort to secure the last seat on the bus, only to have it ‘stolen’ by Ellie. The bantering between these two are pretty amusing, though it’s obvious they’re attracted to one another. When Warne recognizes who she is, he offers her two choices, one of which is that he’d blow the whistle on her whereabouts to her father. Needless to say, Ellie is stuck with Peter until he can help her get to NYC. Seriously, there are worse things than being stuck with Clark Gable!

One of the main highlights is when Peter rents a small motel for the two of them. It’s quite risque for those days to show a man being shirtless, which apparently happens because Gable kept having trouble removing his undershirt whilst keeping the dialog going, so Capra decided to forgo it. Apparently the undergarment industry was largely affected by this when people stopped buying undershirt as it was deemed cool to not to wear one. That’s mind-boggling how much power Hollywood had back in the day.

ItHappenedOneNight_WallsOfJericho

With a set of clothesline and a blanket, Peter builds the ‘walls of Jericho’ between the two beds, which was also Capra’s idea because Colbert refused to undress in front of the camera. The two also puts on quite a show in the morning when two detectives knocked on their door looking for Ellie. Pretending to be a bickering married couple, it was the perfect bonding experience as their adventure is just beginning. Though it’s a completely different role from Rhett Butler, Gable’s certainly got the swagger and charm intact.

Interesting how this film’s success undoubtedly brings about the rom-com trend. We’ve become tired of that genre these days, as most of them are neither romantic nor comedic. I think You’ve Got Mail is a wonderful contemporary rom-com that adhere to a similar pattern, with the characters start out disliking each other. The key I think is in the chemistry of the two actors, and the wit in the dialog. So even if everything else about the film seems out of date, the story still holds up and the dialog still brings a smile to one’s face.

[after Ellie stops a car by showing her leg]
Ellie: Aren’t you going to give me a little credit?
Peter: What for?
Ellie: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
Peter: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie: Well, ooo, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.

ItHappenedOneNight_Hitchhiking

The story itself is pretty predictable. I knew at the end Ellie and Peter are going to be together, but I was still surprised by how they finally got reunited. Ellie’s father played a huge role in bringing them together, which is interesting in and of itself to see a parental figure having such a big part in the love story. In the finale, ‘walls of Jericho’ shows up again but only from the outside of the motel where presumably Ellie and Peter are now married. The sound of trumpet is heard as the walls is coming down. There are plenty of innuendos throughout, some are less subtle than others, but in this day and age where borderline pornographic content becomes ‘normal’ at the movies, it’s nice to see something THIS wholesome for a change.

ItHappenedOneNight_GableColbertWhat strikes me about this movie is the lack of any kissing scene between the two leads. I’d think the Hayes Code allowed kissing scene at the time, as Colbert did kiss Jameson Thomas who played her husband King Westley, so it made me wonder if it’s because Gable and Colbert didn’t get along during filming. All of the promos like the image on the right that suggest any kind of kissing scenes between these two are so misleading, there’s an almost kiss when the were at a barn, but that’s about it. According to IMDb Trivia, seems that neither of them were fond of making the film and didn’t think much about it. So I guess its massive success (both artistically and financially) was as huge a surprise to them as to everyone else.

So did I love this movie? Yes I did, and I’m glad I finally watched it. At the same time, I’m not as enamored with it as I did with say, Roman Holiday and Casablanca. It’s interesting that both of those films didn’t quite have a happy ending, which actually makes it even more romantic. There is something so beguiling and heart-wrenching to see unrequited love played out on screen. Another thing for me is the character Ellie itself, which is not entirely sympathetic. I mean, her rich dad worships her and she pretty much gets everything she wants. Even Roman Holiday‘s Princess Ann is far less spoiled than Ellie. Yes, Colbert makes her character fun to watch, but she’s not exactly my favorite classic characters.

Overall though, this one deserves the ‘essential classic’ status. It’s the first screwball romantic comedy that no doubt becomes the template for ‘opposites attract’ types of storyline. Of course, very few have such staying power like this one.

four reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of It Happened One Night? I’d love to hear what you think!

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50 thoughts on “January 2014 Blind Spot: It Happened One Night (1934)

  1. PrairieGirl

    It’s easy to see that IHON is a blueprint for almost ALL rom coms to follow. And it also proves the genre CAN win an Oscar… quite a few, as a matter of fact. LOVE this movie! My favorite scene is Gable making breakfast for Colbert. I think that would have been a big surprise for the movie-goers of the thirties. Glad you enjoyed seeing this wonderful classic, Flixy.

    1. Hi Becky! Thanks for lending me the dvd! Yeah now I recognize how the formula has been used by countless rom-coms w/ varying degree of adjustments and results, ahah. Yeah that scene is cute as well, just imagine being *stuck* with a guy who looks like Clark Gable AND he’s making you breakfast!! It’d be hard to have that ‘wall of Jericho’ to stay up, ahahahaha.

    1. Hey James, glad I’m not the only one who’s been *blind* about this movie. Yeah it’s definitely worth a look as it spurred on so many imitations, for better or for worse I guess. I hope you enjoy it too when you get around to it.

  2. Oh man so glad you could see this, it’s one of my favorites ever! Such a cute and funny movie 🙂 I also love the part where they pretend to be married, also the part where Clark Gable intimidates that annoying guy on the bus, and the singing guy who drives away with their stuff… basically the whole movie, lol
    I get what you’re saying about Ellie, but her being spoiled is basically the problem. She never gets to go out and meet real people. so even though she’s incredibly rich and has everything in a material sense, her father doesn’t seem to give her much freedom. I realize why you’re annoyed with her character, and I even agree with you a bit, but she was also a bit sympathetic for me because it seemed like she didn’t get out much until she ran away (even though her wanting to marry that other guy was completely stupid and misguided).

    1. Hi Melissa (I don’t know why I kept calling you by your last name!), it’s definitely a cute movie. There are lots of fun moments here, and yeah the encounter w/ that Shapeley guy on the bus is funny though I couldn’t wait for Peter to finally intervene!

      I hear ya about Ellie. I guess you’re right that her character did *grow up* by the end. I guess I was more enamored by Gable’s Peter here, whilst in Roman Holiday, I loved BOTH Hepburn and Peck 😀

  3. AWESOME!!! I always love seeing classic movies getting the spotlight. This was a fun read Ruth. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this but I do remember like it a lot. You get on my favorite scene. The two need a lift and Mr. macho is going to show her the proper way of thumbing a ride. Hysterical scene and I love her jabs at him as one car after another flies by. Then out comes the leg! Just one example of their good chemistry.

    1. Hi Keith! Yeah, that’s why I picked ALL classic films for my BlindSpot series, I figure it’s a good way to shine a spotlight to Hollywood’s golden era. Yeah, the hitchhiking scene is quite iconic isn’t it? It’s so cute when she prompted herself on the fence post whilst Peter tried to *thumb* his way to get a ride, ahah.

    1. Hi Dan! I have to thank you again for partly inspiring me to join is this Blind Spot series. I don’t know which film I’ll do next, but that’s part of the exciting thing about it 😀

  4. I like this one a lot, too. Another example of how influential it was is that reportedly Bugs Bunny was based on the mannerisms of Clark Gable in this film, especially the carrot eating.

  5. I haven’t seen this film in a very long time. How can anyone not forget that scene where Ellie shows off a leg just to get a car to stop? I’m not sure if it was made during the Hays code period but dammit, that was a total turn-on.

    1. Oh you should give it a chance, Andina. Colbert did a great job despite her character being not entirely sympathetic. Totally worth it for Clark Gable being charming and erm, shirtless too 😀

  6. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    How cool!

    Very proud that you enjoyed and critiqued this old school romantic comedy. Proving Gable could be rough hewed, boisterous and macho. While providing subtle comic relief for Ms. Colbert. Their timing reminds me of George Burns and Gracie Allen, though not nearly so scatter brained. Classic Capra!

    1. Hi Jack! I had been hoping you’d stop by. Well you’ll be seeing more classic reviews here as most of my 12 BlindSpot picks are classic films. I should see more of Capra films, I love this one and It’s A Wonderful Life. Any suggestions?

      1. jackdeth72

        ‘Arsenic And Old Lace’: Cary Grant goes back to vaudeville, pratfall comedy roots. Lavish “rat-a-tat-tat” dialogue. And Raymond Massey doing his best Boris Karloff as a bad guy. In a superbly adapted cinematic stage play.

        ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’: The epitome of Jimmy Stewart.

        ”Meet John Doe’: Great chemistry between Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

        ‘Mr. Deeds Goes To Town’.

        1. Thanks Jack! ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ is one I’ve been eager to see for a while. ”Meet John Doe’ sounds great as well, need to see more Gary Cooper films too 😉

  7. Good review, Ruth. Glad you finally watched this one. It’s a very charming film, even if a bit dated. Also, I don’t know if I would’ve stopped for Claudette’s super skinny leg! haha

    1. Ahah too funny! Yeah well she’s not as voluptuous as say Marilyn Monroe, but I think she’s pretty attractive. The look may have been dated but I think the charm hasn’t worn off yet.

  8. Great pick for a film. What also makes this films stand out from so many films that would be made even a year later in classic Hollywood was that it was one of those films that bordered on the enforcement of the Hays Production Code, so a lot of the innuendo, double talk and situations the couple found themselves in did not have to clear censors.

    Although I must admit that even in its heyday, filmmakers were ingenious in skirting around the strict laws of what they could put up on screen.

    It Happened One Night is a classic of classic road movies; my favorite scene is the singing of “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” I have to sing along every time I watch the film.

    Tried finding the clip but couldn’t.

    You mentioned You’ve Got Mail. Well as coincidence would have it, the film upon which it is based “The Little Shop Around the Corner” was on TCM today as a birthday tribute to filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch.

    1. Hi Iba! Interesting tid bit about the Hayes code, boy we’ve gone from being that strict to overly loose these days, ahah.

      Oh I saw “The Little Shop Around the Corner,” that’s such a cute movie too!

  9. Although I did not love it, I did enjoy it. It was definitely an entertaining movie and I liked the way you saw similarities between this and Roman Holiday.

  10. Sounds great! I’ve seen shamefully little old films, maybe I should begin my journey with this? 😉 I’ve seen Gone with the Wind quite a few times and would love to see Gable in another role. The plot sounds interesting, anyways. Lovely review!

    1. Hi Elina! Yes this would be a great one to start with. You like romance right? Then don’t miss Roman Holiday, that’s another essential classic, my own personal favorite.

  11. Nice one, Ruth! I saw part of this last year and I’m kicking myself for not sitting down for all of it since. I really liked what I saw, too. Interesting trivia about the undershirt industry — that’s just crazy.

    1. Hi Eric! Oh you should give it a full watch. It’s available on Amazon on Demand in case you don’t have the Netflix dvd subscription. I’m glad I finally got to see it.

    1. Well if you’re not fond of rom-com then it might not be your cup of tea, Chris. But definitely worth seeing as it sort of inspired a genre so it’s got some historical significance.

  12. “Do you love her?”
    “Yes! But don’t hold it against me, I’m a little screwy myself.”

    I adore this film, though somehow I never noticed the lack of kissing before (yet another reason why I’m happy to have launched this series). I suppose in a way it makes sense – she’s with someone else after all – and in a way it makes the story a little more special. The love story without any physical act of love. Like Bollywood, but not. (That should have been the tagline). This was actually one of my earliest experiences with classic film, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

    PS – If you were charmed by Claudette Colbert, check her out in MIDNIGHT – a film written by Billy Wilder five years after this.

    1. Hi Ryan! Firstly, thank you for spearheading the series. Wish I had participated earlier 🙂

      Yeah, the more I think about it, I think it made sense that they didn’t kiss as she was still married. I like the fact that there was no physical relationship for them to fall in love, yes you’re right about the comparison to Bollywood movies.

      That’s cool that it’s one of your earliest experience with classic film! My Fair Lady is one of those for me and that one holds a special place in my heart.

      Thanks for the recommendation, definitely will give that a look.

  13. As many times as my mom and sister have watched this movie – they’re huge Clark Gable fans – I have not see It Happened One Night all the way through (at least I think I haven’t). Nice to see you gave it high marks Ruth. I’ll have to park myself down in a seat and watch the whole thing sometime. 🙂

  14. Glad you loved it! I wonder if you would’ve liked it even more if you’d seen it before Roman Holiday or Casablanca. I think I saw it after Casablanca and before Roman Holiday, but I’m sure I would’ve loved it no matter what. 😀

  15. Pingback: 2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014 |

  16. Pingback: Movie Review – It Happened One Night |

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