In this post I will discuss the classic 1934 Columbia movie, “It Happened One Night”, the film’s plot is based on a 1933 short story called “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Frank Capra directed and co-produced the movie which is considered one of the first films to be known as a screwball comedy and it starred Claudette Colbert in the role of Ellie Andrews who is a spoiled heiress and Clark Gable in the role of Peter Warne who is a recently fired newspaper report.
Special Note: Interestingly, Colbert and Gable were not the first choice to play the roles and due to certain circumstances both actors reluctantly took on the parts in the film. Colbert because she had made a previous unsuccessful movie with Capra for Columbia and she did not want to make another film with the director so to persuade her to take the role the studio agreed to pay her double her normal salary if she completed filming the movie within four weeks. Gable was “loaned” to Columbia Studios as a “punishment” because he had refused to make another movie at his contracted studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In a strange twist of fate, both Colbert and Gable would go on to win many accolades for their roles in “It Happened One Night” and the film became a very popular classic Hollywood movie.
It Happened One Night plot
The movie starts with Ellie being held captive on a yacht by her wealthy father, she has eloped with King Westley who he strongly disapproves of because he thinks that Westley is after his daughter’s inheritance and he wants the marriage annulled. Ellie jumps from the yacht moored off the Florida coast and plans to runs away to New York City during the night on a Greyhound bus to reunite with Westley. While on the bus Ellie meets Warne who recognizes her as the runaway heiress. Ellie reluctantly agrees to give the charismatic newspaper reporter her exclusive story if he helps her get to New York.
Along the way, Ellie and Warne spend the night at a roadside motel. Low on money and not being able to afford two rooms the pair claims to be a married couple in order to share one room which proves to be a very awkward situation. In the classic scene in the motel room, Warne hangs a rope between the two twin beds and drapes a blanket across the room to allow Ellie some privacy; he humorously refers to the blanket as the “walls of Jericho”.
Special Note: At the time of filming the movie industry was about to begin enforcing the strict 1930 Motion Picture Production Code, more commonly known as the “Hays Code”. This code severely limited moral and social conduct as portrayed in films and It Happened One Night was considered a “pre-code” production and the rules were not enforced. As a result, the scene in the motel was allowed and when Clark Gable’s character undresses in front of Claudette Colbert’s character to reveal that he is not wearing an undershirt and his chest is bare caused quite a scandal. In fact it caused a trend in men’s fashion of not wearing an undershirt and sales dramatically dropped.
Later, when the bus breaks down, Ellie and Warne decide not to wait and they begin to hitchhike instead. The scene shows Warne trying his best to flag down a car but he is unsuccessful and Ellie asks to give it a try. As she raises her skirt to reveal her shapely legs and car quickly stops and they continue their trip to New York!
Sometime during their trip Ellie realizes she has fallen in love with Warne and professes her feelings one night through the blanket wall. When she wakes in the morning Warne is gone and Ellie thinks that he has abandoned her (in fact he has rushed onto New York to get an advanced payment from his editor so that he can marry her!). Disappointed, she calls her father to rescue her and feeling betrayed by Warne she decides to remarry Westley in a second wedding ceremony.
On the wedding day, feeling absoultely miserable, Ellie confesses to her father that she loves Warne but is settling on Westley. When Warne arrives at the house to meet with the father he is there not to collect the reward money but he insists he only wants to be repaid for his expenses. The father is impressed that Warne was not looking to profit from his helping Ellie and Warne finally admits that he really loves Ellie. The father is impressed by Warne’s honesty and as he walks Ellie down the aisle he tells her she is marrying the wrong man and that she should marry Warne instead! So, Ellie ditches Westley at the altar and becomes a “runaway bride”.
In one of the final scenes of the movie, Warne has contacted the father to find out what is taking so long with Ellie getting her annulment from Westley. Finally, as the movie ends, Ellie and Warne are finally married and as they start their honeymoon a toy trumpet is played and the “wall of Jericho” (the blanket wall) falls down!!
The film went on to make cinematic history when it became the first movie to win all top five Academy Awards for 1934: Outstanding Production (Best Picture) for Columbia Studios, Best Director for Frank Capra, Best Actor for Clark Gable, Best Actress for Claudette Colbert and Best Screenplay for Robert Riskin.
The dashing Clark Gable accepting his Academy Award for Best Actor
Claudette Colbert accepting her Academy Award for Best Actress
from child star Shirley Temple
It Happened One Night costumes (Ellie’s wedding dress)
Before I start with the costumes for Ellie (Claudette Colbert)costumes, let’s talk about the costumes for Warne (Clark Gable). The costumes for It Happened One Night were designed by Robert Kalloch who worked for both Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Gable was already know as a best-dressed actor and for the bus scene in the film he wore a trench coat, Norfolk jacket with a v-neck sweater worn over a button-down shirt. At the end of the film Gable wears a black wool gabardine suit which is perfectly tailored to fit his dashing style on screen. (Please see the Special Note above regarding Gable’s clothing selection (or lack of) for the motel scene and how it impacted the men’s undershirt sales)
Although Claudette Corbert’s character only wears four different costumes for the film designer Robert Kalloch also did a wonderful job. At the start of the film we see Ellie trapped on the yacht wearing a beautiful nightgown, as she boards the night bus to New York she is wearing a traveling outfit which features a skirt and a striped sweater worn over a shirt with a round collar and then for the motel scene we see Ellie borrowing a set of Warne’s pajamas that are delightfully oversized. For the Ellie’s glamourous bridal dress for her almost wedding to Westley she is wearing a beautifully bias-cut silk chameusse with flutter sleeves and flowers placed along the scoop neckline, she is also wearing a lovely tulle bridal train.