Pre-Code Crazy: It Happened One Night (1934)

My Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month is a film that I’d bet money you’ve all seen already – It Happened One Night (1934). And if you haven’t, I’m absolutely certain you’ve seen a clip of its most famous scene, where Claudette Colbert succeeds in flagging down a passing car by flashing one of her shapely gams. Whatever the case, it’s a film worth seeing – whether it’s for the first time or the 14th!

It Happened One Night tells the story of a spoiled, headstrong heiress, Ellie Andrews (Colbert), who is kidnapped by her father (Walter Connolly) after she elopes with a gold-digging playboy named King Westley. After escaping from her father, Ellie embarks on a bus trip to New York, where she meets reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who has just been fired from his job. Despite their instant mutual dislike, the two find themselves inextricably bound together as they travel across the country, encountering a series of adventures and misadventures – and love – on the way.

Because I’m so sure that most of you already know all about this beloved film, I thought I’d skip the deep dive into the plot and instead share with you a few trivia tidbits about the production.

The film was the first of only three movies to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. (The other two films were One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [1975] and The Silence of the Lambs [1991]).

Colbert didn’t want to do this scene.

Claudette Colbert reportedly objected to the scene where she had to pull up her skirt in an effort to stop a passing driver. A chorus girl was brought in to serve as Colbert’s body double, causing Colbert to tell director Frank Capra: ”Get her out of here. I’ll do it. That’s not my leg!”

If you check out the 1937 Laurel and Hardy comedy Way Out West, you’ll see a parody of the well-known hitch-hiking scene, in which Stan Laurel stops a stagecoach by offering a bit of leg a la Colbert.

This was the last film of Blanche Friderici, who died two months before it was released in 1934. Friderici can also be seen in such pre-Codes as Night Nurse (1931), Mara Hari (1932), and So Big (1932). She suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 55.

Many sources claim that this is director Frank Capra. I don’t think so. Do you?

About halfway through the film, there’s an impromptu bus singalong “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Several internet sources claim Frank Capra, the director, makes a cameo as one of the passengers, singing the third verse of the song. I beg to differ.

Clark Gable, who won the Best Actor Oscar, wound up giving his golden statuette to a child, telling him that what mattered was winning the award, not owning it. Years later, after Gable’s death, the Oscar was returned to the actor’s widow. In 1996, the Oscar was put up for auction by Gable’s estate, although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued to keep the statuette off the auction, claiming that, two years before his 1960 death, Gable had signed a contract that gave the Academy first rights to buy the statuette for $10 if it was ever sold. The Academy’s lawsuit was unsuccessful – director Steven Spielberg purchased the Oscar for $607,500 – but ultimately, the Academy emerged the victor. After acquiring the award, Spielberg donated it to the Academy.

Watch out for this goof about 57 minutes in: Colbert and Gable are in a car, with Gable driving. Colbert dons a scarf, but every time the camera cuts to her, the scarf is in a different position.

Even though the film is considered to be a romantic comedy, Gable and Colbert never kiss.

It Happened One Night airs on TCM on May 7th. Do yourself a favor and check it out! You’ll be glad you did.


Be sure to visit the Speakeasy blog later this week to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending!

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 5, 2019.

10 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: It Happened One Night (1934)”

  1. Funny thing, It Happened One Night is so familiar that I never really thought of it as a Pre-Code. How do you think the Code would have changed it, if at all?

    • That’s a good question, Michael. It really doesn’t have any real pre-Code touches that I can point to, except the blowing of the horn at the end, maybe.

  2. One time, sick with the flu, It Happened One Night was on television. I lay on the couch under ten blankets and listened to the movie. I had loved the movie before, but now I absolutely and totally fell in love with Clark Gable. Listening to his performance alone made me appreciate him on a level I hadn’t previously. The silver lining in having the flu!

  3. I never thought of this film as a pre-code either, but of course it would be. (Duh.)

    Great story about Gable’s Oscar. It sounds like a rare instance where everyone benefitted.

  4. This is my least favorite Gable film. Gable does the “Gable act” too much. Maybe it was Capra. Like the way he had Cary Grant mug too much in Arsenic and Old Lace.

  5. A classic, and very deservedly so !

  6. This is so much fun. It never fails to make me laugh. I love watching Ellie and Peter’s relationship develop as the film goes on.

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