Casual film fans who know Clark Gable only as the mysterious rogue Rhett Butler will be delighted and surprised by his other side: Gable was a brilliant comic actor, as Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night amply demonstrates.
Peter Warne (Gable), an ambitious New York City news reporter, is headed home from Miami on a bus. Fellow passenger Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is running away to New York to join the man with whom she’s eloped and from whom her father is trying to keep her. A spoiled, rich “brat” (so Peter terms her), daughter of a Wall Street banker, her disappearance is front-page news, and Gable wants to write her story of the mad dash to her husband in exchange for keeping her secret from the other unsuspecting passengers.
Peter and Ellie start off sniping at each other, but we know that in true Hollywood fashion they’re destined to fall madly in love and spend the rest of their lives arguing with one another. Before that happens, though, they must survive the long bus ride without killing each other, and it’s in this rocky relationship that Gable gets to display his comic genius (and Colbert hers). In hilarious sequences, Peter teaches Ellie how to dunk donuts; the two stage an impromptu argument to convince detectives searching for Ellie that they’re actually a married couple; Peter persuades a suspicious bus passenger that he’s a mobster who’s kidnapped Ellie; and when they’re finally forced to abandon the bus, Peter explains surefire methods of hitchhiking, only to be upstaged by Ellie’s own method.
As must happen, Ellie is finally forced to make a decision: Go through with the big church wedding in New York with her husband, famed aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas) — “the pill of the century,” according to Peter — or have the marriage annulled and run back to Peter. Guess which guy she chooses?
The ultimate dizzy, romantic, screwball comedy, It Happened One Night is not to be missed.
Oscars Outstanding Production 1934
AFI 100 (1998 list): #35
unforgettable movie moment:
Gable removes his shirt to reveal his shockingly bare chest, which prompted American men to throw out their undershirts overnight.
previous AFI 100 film:
34: To Kill a Mockingbird
next AFI 100 film:
36: Midnight Cowboy