It Happened One Night
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for It Happened One Night can be found here.

Rich 'brat' Ellen 'Ellie' Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs (actually, she swims) away from her controlling father (Walter Connolly), who has sequestered her on his yacht in Miami to prevent her from consummating her marriage to famous aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas). Determined to make her way to New York to be with her husband, Ellie takes the night bus (hence, the title of the short story on which the movie is based) from Florida, where she is thrown together with newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable). When Ellie's disappearance makes the headlines, Peter offers to get her to New York if she will give him an exclusive on her story. Of course, in screwball comedies, things don't always go as planned.

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy based on a short story titled 'Night Bus', written by American writer and investigative journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams [1871-1958]. The story was first published in the August 1933 issue of Cosmopolitan and adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Robert Riskin. The resulting film was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (for Screenplay, Director, Actor, Actress, and Best Picture). It is also considered to be one of, if not THE, first examples of screwball comedy.

The song is variously called 'That Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze' or more simply 'The Man on the Flying Trapeze' or just 'The Flying Trapeze', first published in 1867. The 'daring young man on the flying trapeze' refers to Jules Lotard [1842-1870], a French acrobat who developed the art of the trapeze. Coincidentally, Lotard also popularized the leotard, the body suit commonly worn by dancers and gymnasts. The full lyrics to 'The Man on the Flying Trapeze' can be found here.

"The walls of Jericho" is a reference to a Bible story [Joshua 6:1-21] in which the Israelites surrounded the city of Jericho and caused the walls that separated them from the city to come tumbling down. When Peter and Ellie found themselves having to share the same bedroom, Peter put up a "wall" made of wire and a blanket to separate them since they were unmarried and it was scandalous at the time for two unmarried people of the opposite sex to share a room. For their honeymoon, they went back to the hotel to playfully and symbolically tear down "the wall of Jericho" so they could now share the room as man and wife. They needed the horn because, in the Bible story, a horn is blown as the walls of Jericho are falling down.

The phrase 'Very clever, these Armenians' is a variant of another phrase used during that time period, 'Damned clever, these Chinese!' It was meant as a sort of left-handed compliment. On the one hand, the speaker making such a comment praised the Armenians (or Chinese) for their inventiveness or ingenuity, but at the same time it reserved the right of the speaker to look down his or her nose at them because they were immigrants or ethnic types not belonging to the higher social status that the speaker supposedly held. So Ellie was giving Peter a left-handed compliment meaning ' Sure, you're clever for having devised the blanket divider wall,' but by loosely associating him with Armenians, it was a way of needling him for not being up to her class. She didn't really mean to imply that he was an Armenian, just that he wasn't part of her class or social standing, clever though he was.

How does the movie end?

On the day of Ellie and King's wedding, Mr Andrews asks Peter to stop by the house to discuss the financial matter with his daughter. Andrews assumes that Peter wants the $10,000 reward, but all Peter wants is what he spent on Ellie $39.60. On his way out, Peter runs into Ellie. She invites him to stay for the wedding, but he leaves because he hasn't got 'the stomach'. King flies in on his autogyro, and the ceremony begins. As father and daughter are walking down the aisle, Andrews tells Ellie that Peter did not ask for the reward money, only for the $39.60 he spent on her and that Peter loves her. He informs Ellie that there's a car at the gate waiting to carry her away if she should change her mind, but she says nothing. When the minister asks Ellie if she will have King 'as your husband, so long as ye both shall live,' Ellie suddenly blots across the garden and climbs into her car. Some days later, Andrews sends a $100,000 check to King in appreciation for him not contesting the annulment of their marriage. He then receives a telegram from Peter asking what's holding up the annulment because 'the walls of Jericho are tumbling.' Andrews replies, 'Let 'em tumble.' In the final scene, Ellie and Peter have checked into a motel on their honeymoon. The motel owners wonder what the newlyweds might want with a rope, a blanket, and a trumpet. Suddenly, the trumpet blares, and the lights in their room go out.

Ellie had secretly eloped to marry King Westley, but the marriage was never consummated because Ellie's father had her whisked away onto the yacht in the opening scenes of the movie. When her father finally gave his consent to the marriage, he demanded that they have a lavish church wedding, from which Ellie ran away at the last minute. She didn't run away WITH Peter; she ran away from publicly repeating her vows to King. Thereafter and most likely on the grounds that Ellie's marriage to King was never consummated, Mr Andrews had the marriage annulled between Ellie and King, and he paid King $100,000 not to contest it. Ellie was then legally able to marry Peter.

What is an autogyro?

The autogyro was a type of pre-helicopter, invented by Spanish engineer Juan de la cierva and first flown on 9 January 1923 at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. A photo of an autogyro can see seen here.

Neither. It Happened One Night was made 19 years before Roman Holiday.They're similar to some extent, but hardly identical. Hepburn's character isn't trying to get back to her husband; she just wants a break from her royal duties. In Roman Holiday, there's no animosity between the main characters, whereas it's a major, major part of It Happened One Night. They do both have reporters scheming to get an exclusive, but you could say the same thing about dozens of other movies.

So the story goes. Animation expert Friz Frelend, in his unpublished memoirs, claims that the scene where Peter leans on a fence eating a carrot and talking to Ellie is where the idea of the carrot-eating, wiseacre rabbit came from. Other things in the film that also contributed to Bugs' character include the mention of an imaginary thug named Bugs Dooley and the rapid-talking Oscar Shapely (Roscoe Karns). The expression "What's up doc?" was based on the way Shapely always called everyone "doc", and Claudette Colbert sitting on the fence inspired Bugs Bunny's 'figure'. Bugs Bunny's film debut was in Porky's Hare Hunt (1938), an eight minute short in which he played an unnamed rabbit who outwitted Porky Pig at every turn. Bugs' first appearance as 'Bugs Bunny' was in another short, A Wild Hare (1940).

Screwball comedies were very popular in the 1930s, and there are dozens of them. Viewers who have enjoyed It Happened One Night also recommend seeing My Man Godfrey (1936) in which a derelect is hired as a butler to a ditzy and dysfunctional family, The Awful Truth (1937)] in which an about-to-be divorced couple try to ruin each others' romantic escapades, Bringing Up Baby (1938) in which a paleontologist and a ditzy heiress search for a dinosaur bone while caring for a leopard, Holiday (1938) in which a man must choose between marrying a rich socialite or his free-spirited friend, and You Can't Take It with You (1938) in which a woman introduces her eccentric family to the rich and snobby family of her fiance. Also of interest, albeit from the early 1940s, are His Girl Friday (1940) in which a divorced newspaper editor plots to stop his ex-wife's marriage to an insurance salesman, The Lady Eve (1941) in which a rich but nave snake expert meets a con artist on a luxury ship, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) in which the Smiths discover that their three-year marriage has been declared invalid.

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