Best Picture Review: It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night
It Happened One Night

Happy Thanksgiving!  With the Poulter feast not starting until late this afternoon, Lauren and I had the morning free to watch the next title from the Best Picture winners, It Happened One Night, the 1934 winner.

According to, It Happened One Night is among the best movies ever, #130 on the charts.  Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, it is the story of a well-to-do young lass named Ellie who has already eloped with a man named King Westley against her father’s wishes.  However, Ellie is captured by her father before the two can consummate the marriage.  She escapes off the coast of Florida, and attempts to return to New York to officially marry him.

On a bus bound for New York, she meets downtrodden newspaper writer Peter Warne, who winds up accompanying her on her journey home.  As you may expect, the two wind up falling in love.  However, they get separated from each other one night, and after a very complicated sequence of events that tears them apart from each other, they do wind up getting back together at the very end, pleasing Ellie’s father.

I am not sure what to think of the movie.  It was pretty good, and a little over halfway through I was sure it would replace Grand Hotel as my favorite of the Best Picture winners so far.  However, the way the movie ended was so odd and certain scenes that I thought would have been important to the plot were skipped, and rather just told about by the characters.

For instance, Peter and Ellie hitchhike with a guy for a while.  They stop for a moment, and the driver speeds away with their luggage.  Somehow, Peter chases the car down on foot, beats the driver, ties him to a tree, steals the car, and returns to Ellie.  “How’s you get the car?” she asks.  “Oh, I gave him a black eye and tied him to a tree,” Peter replies.  We don’t get to actually see any of that, and those two sentences of dialogue are all we get to even hear about it!

I wonder if they ran out of money for production towards the end?  Stuff like that kept happening.  The big, triumphant final scene we expected that showed the two running away together and getting married was also omitted.  Instead, we simply heard the father on the phone discussing their whereabouts with someone.  A little disappointing.

Another minor problem I found was the title.  The movie takes place over the course of several days and nights, and no night seems much more important or significant than the rest.  Oh well.

There was a musical number thrown in there on the bus, “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  Normally music not relevant to the plot is annoying, but I actually thought it was pretty entertaining.  Actually, any time there was singing in the movie I was very entertained.  Some of it I think was intended to be laughably bad.

In the end, it swept the Academy Awards “Big 5” categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing.  All this despite the fact that the lead actors kept ridiculing the script.  Claudette Colbert didn’t even show up to the Oscars because she was so humiliated by the movie, but when it was revealed that she had won, someone dragged her to the ceremony where she accepted the award in regular clothes.

So overall, I liked It Happened One Night.  I thought there were holes in the movie that easily could have been corrected and then it would have been great.  I would rank it third of the five we’ve seen so far.  Lauren seemed to enjoy the movie.  I might have seen a tear rolling out of her eyes as it came to an end!

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