main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Film: It Happened One Night
Peter Warne (Clark Gable) is a hard-bitten reporter. He loses his job, but finds a ticket back in when he stumbles onto a runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert). He meets her on a cross-country night bus, and threatens to blow her cover unless she gives him the exclusive story about her escape. They hate each other at first; when they realize that they'll have to share a room, they invent the "Wall of Jericho," a blanket between their two beds to keep them apart. But they eventually fall in love...

This Romantic Comedy from 1934 was directed by Frank Capra. It was the first film to win all five major Oscars in the same year (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay - a feat only repeated twice since with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Silence of the Lambs), established Columbia Pictures as a major film company, made Clark Gable a star, and let the world know that Frank Capra was a great director. Its title was the solution to the very first rebus on Concentration.

It's also the first Screwball Comedy it started a whole genre of comedy films in which a straight man-style character is chased, harassed, and eventually romantically captured by a Cloudcuckoolander (or related trope).

Tropes in the film:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: A very obnoxious guy hits on Ellie on the bus so Peter starts pretending to be her husband.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Peter is kind of a jerk to Ellie in some scenes. She still falls for him anyway.
    • She falls for him because of him being a bit of a jerk now and then - she likes someone who stands up to her and isn't impressed by her (father's) money.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love
    Ellie: I love you. Nothing else matters. We can run away. Everything will take care of itself. Please, Peter, I can't let you out of my life now. I couldn't live without you.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: They sure do snipe at each other a lot in the beginning.
  • Blackmail: Peter wants the scoop on Ellie's flight to her husband; he threatens to call her father unless she gives it to him.
    • Also, Oscar Shapely wants to go 50/50 on a $5,000 reward he sees in the newspaper.
  • Break Up Make Up Scenario: one of the first in cinema, as Peter and Ellie angrily separate, only to be reunited at the end.
  • Catch Phrase: I'll write a book about it.
  • Clark Kenting: Peter and Ellie fool the detectives by pretending to be a low-class married couple. Somehow it works.
  • Crowd Song: Though the bus passengers' rendition of "The Flying Trapeze" is believable.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ellie to Peter during his hitchhiking attempts.
  • Domestic Abuser: Peter pretends to abuse his "wife" to fool those who are looking for Ellie.
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress
  • Fanservice: Clark Gable was seen without an undershirt in this film. There is an urban legend that this hurt undershirt sales.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: So blatant it hardly counts as sneaking. Peter and Ellie spend the movie hanging a towel (the Wall of Jericho) between the beds in their hotel/motel rooms for privacy. At the end, when they have been married, they retire to a hotel room, while the owner remarks to a friend how funny it is that the newlyweds requested a trumpet. Cut to a scene of a towel being thrown into the corner, with the sound of a trumpet being blown. Really suggestive for 1934.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Dyke's Auto Camp" might elicit a few snickers today.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Peter, who is rude and crass but really does care about Ellie.
  • Just for the Heli of It: The groom arrives at the society wedding in an autogyro (like a helicopter, but with an unpowered rotor), apparently for the PR value. The bride and her father are not favorably impressed:
    Mr. Andrews: Everything's set. Creating quite a furore, too. (Pause) Great stunt King is going to pull.
    Ellie: Stunt?
    Mr. Andrews: Yeah, he's landing on the lawn in an autogyro.
    Ellie: (Flatly) Yes, I heard.
    Mr. Andrews: Personally, I think it's silly, too.
    Ellie and her father aren't the only ones to find it a bit silly
    Peter: I'd like to get a load of that three ring circus you're pulling. I wanna see what love looks like when it's triumphant. I haven't had a good laugh in a week.
  • Lost in Imitation: Bugs Bunny's love of carrots was intended as an obvious Shout-Out to this movie, but it quickly became the Stock Animal Diet of fictional rabbits everywhere. (In Real Life, carrots are unhealthy for rabbits in large amounts.)
  • Non-Indicative Name: It takes place over several nights and days.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The heiress has run away because her father is trying to annul her marriage. Of course, this happens before she meets Clark Gable.
  • Road Movie
  • Road Trip Romance: The Trope Maker
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Romantic False Lead: Does anyone watch this movie and think that Ellie will choose King Westley?
    • No.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Ellie and Peter spend quite a bit of time discussing hitchhiking techniques and what does or does not constitute a piggy-back ride.
    • Gable has one of his own, where he complains that women "don't know how to dunk" (donuts into coffee). Nike used that scene for a shoe ad in the 1980s.
  • Show Some Leg: The Trope Maker, and so old that many people don't even realize this is where it comes from.
  • Shirtless Scene: Gable's scene caused a media sensation.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss
  • Sleep Cute: Early in the film, Ellie falls asleep on Peter's shoulder, while riding a bus.
  • Spoiled Brat: Ellie is so spoiled that she can't grasp the concept of a budget, and tries to buy candy on the bus when she has $4 to her name.
  • The Thirties: Two dollars to rent a motel room for the night.
  • This Is My Side: That bedsheet been homaged/used dozens of times by everything from Neon Genesis Evangelion to A Very Brady Sequel.
  • Uptown Girl: A bit of It Was His Sled, right?
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Ellie's love life makes the top story on the front page of every newspaper. Evidently, not much else was going on in the world in 1934.
    • Considering that it was in the middle of The Great Depression, chances are that any more upbeat news would've been more than welcome.

Lady For A DayAcademy AwardThe Thin Man
The GoddessFilms of the 1930sL'Atalante
IshtarCreator/Columbia PicturesJason and the Argonauts
The WindNational Film RegistryA Night at the Opera
The Man Makes the WeaponImageSource/Live-Action FilmsShow Some Leg

alternative title(s): It Happened One Night
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy