It Happened One Night

“Night Bus,” a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams was the basis for the 1934 film It Happened One Night which starred Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable.  Colbert plays Ellen “Ellie” Andrews a spoiled little rich girl who has married against her father’s wishes.  When she takes a bus to New York to reunite with her new husband, she is recognized by Peter Warne an opportunistic, egotistical reporter (played by Clark Gable) who threatens to tell her father where she is unless she gives him an exclusive interview.  Complications ensue, and, as you probably suspect, the two fall in love.

The storyline didn’t seem very appealing, and Columbia Pictures, the company that had the rights to the story was not a first rank movie company at the time, so casting the lead roles was a problem.  The part of Ellie was offered to a number of actresses including Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Margaret Sullivan, Constance Bennett, Carole Lombard and Loretta Young but either because they turned it down or because they were unavailable, the role of Ellie eventually went to Colbert – on the condition that filming would not take more than four weeks so as not to interfere with a vacation she had planned.  Similarly the role of Peter was turned down by Robert Montgomery before it was offered to Clark Gable.  The great Frank Capra was tapped to direct the picture.

When it was released it didn’t get particularly good reviews, and the box office receipts weren’t very good either.  Word of mouth, however, sparked interest in the movie, it became quite popular, and went on to become the first movie ever to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing/Adaptation.  Winning the “Big Five” is about a rare as getting a royal flush in poker.  (Only One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) have also won the “Big Five.”)

It Happened One Night is now considered one of the greatest movies ever made.  It is on a number of the American Film Institute (AFI) lists of greatest movies including 100 Years . . .100 Movies (#35), 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs (#8), 100 Years . . . 100 Passions (Love Stories) (#38), 100 Years . . . 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) (#46), and 10 Top Romantic Comedies (#3).  For reference, concerning the romantic comedies category, When Harry Met Sally (1989) is #6, Moonstruck (1987) is #8, and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) is #10.

You may think of Clark Gable as the suave Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind (1939), but Gable also had a talent for comedy as can be seen from the most famous scene in the movie.  The YouTube video of that memorable scene is embedded below, and can also be seen here.

Originally Colbert stubbornly refused to do this scene, but when the studio brought in a “body double,” or I should say a “leg double,” Colbert’s ego forced her to relent.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s radio was in its heyday, and movies were adapted for radio with the original stars of the movies featured in the radio adaptations.  You can hear the 1939 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of It Happened One Night featuring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable here.

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