Movie legend has it that Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, as punishment from their studios’ bosses, were forced into doing It Happened One Night (1934). All movie stars should be punished so rewardingly.
Colbert plays Ellie, a rich kid on the run from her father, who is trying to prevent her from a disastrous marriage to a similarly well-off snob. En route in Miami, she runs into Peter (Gable), an out-of-work reporter who immediately recognizes her as the wanted rich fugitive. Peter blackmails Ellie into staying with him so that he can turn her in and get the scoop of a lifetime. No prizes for guessing whether this odd couple will eventually get under each other’s skin.
From such simple stuff are movie legends made. This winning romantic comedy is practically a blueprint for decades of movie romances to follow, from Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (also starring Colbert) to 1990’s Pretty Woman. Gable and Colbert seem to be having a rollicking good time. The PC police will sneer at the scene where Ellie eventually begs Peter to stay with her; the rest of the audience will be sniffling in their hankies.
This is also a movie that often ends the sentence “This is the movie where…” First, there’s the iconic scene where Ellie hitches a ride for her and Peter by uncovering a well-turned leg (shown below). There’s the famous “Wall of Jericho” bedtime scene where Clark Gable takes off his shirt, displays nothing underneath, and immediately sends national sales of T-shirts plummeting. Lastly, there’s the fact that It Happened One Night was the first (and for four decades, the only) movie to sweep all five major Oscars — Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Director (a guy named Frank Capra).
Alternately hilarious and touching, It Happened One Night hasn’t dated a bit in 80 years.