Spoiled heiress Ellen "Ellie" Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries fortune hunter "King" Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father (Walter Connolly). He retrieves, (or rather kidnaps) his daughter before the marriage can be consummated, but she runs away.

Boarding a bus to New York City, she meets fellow passenger Peter Warne (Clark Gable), an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He recognizes her and gives her a choice: if she will give him an exclusive on her story, he will help her reunite with Westley. If not, he will tell her father where she is and collect the reward. Ellie agrees to the first choice.

While on the way to Westley, various adventures follow. When they have to hitchhike, Peter claims to be an expert on the subject. When nothing he tries works, he eventually ends up thumbing his nose at passing cars, out of frustration. The sheltered Ellie then shows him how it's done. She stops the next car dead in its tracks by lifting up her skirt and showing off a shapely leg.

One night, when they are nearing the end of their journey, Peter leaves to make some arrangements. The owners of the motel in which they are staying see that his car is gone and assume he has left without paying. They rouse Ellie out of bed and kick her out. Believing Peter has deserted her, Ellie calls her father, who is so relieved to get her back that he agrees to let her have her way. Ellie has fallen in love with Peter, but she thinks he betrayed her for the reward money, so she agrees to have a second, formal wedding with Westley. Meanwhile, Peter believes he is the one who has been double-crossed.

Peter gets in touch with Ellie's father to settle up. Mr. Andrews offers him the large reward promised, but Peter will have none of it. He just wants to be paid $39.60 for the expenses incurred on the trip. Intrigued, the father badgers the reporter until he gets the truth: Peter loves Ellie (though he thinks he is out of his mind to do so). Peter leaves with the check he asked for.

While walking his daughter down the aisle, Andrews tells her what he has found out and encourages her to run off again, telling her there is a car waiting for her out back; at the very last moment, when asked whether she takes this man, she escapes again. Her father pays Westley to have the marriage annulled, enabling Ellie to marry Peter.

Oscar
5 Nominations
5 Awards
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Screenplay

Golden Globes
0 Nominations
0 Awards
Filming began in a tense atmosphere, as Gable and Colbert were dissatisfied with the quality of the script. However, they established a friendly working relationship and found that the script was no worse than those of many of their earlier films. Capra understood that they were unwilling participants and tried to lighten the mood by having Gable play practical jokes on Colbert, who responded with good humor.

Both Gable and Capra enjoyed making the movie. Colbert however continued to show her displeasure on the set. She also initially balked at pulling up her skirt to entice a passing driver to provide a ride, complaining that it was unladylike. However, upon seeing the chorus girl who was brought in as her body double, an outraged Colbert told the director, "Get her out of here. I'll do it. That's not my leg!” Through the filming, Capra claimed, Colbert made "many little tantrums, motivated by her antipathy toward me," however "she was wonderful in the part." After her acceptance speech at the Oscars ceremony, she went back on stage and thanked Capra for making the film.

The sensibilities of the time played a role in some of the key scenes. One of the most famous scenes, Peter hangs a blanket over a rope between their beds for Ellie to have some privacy, calling it "The Walls of Jericho”. The end of the film has a telegram from Peter who has run off with Ellie as they both await news of the annulment with Westley, in part, it says, "the walls of Jericho are starting to topple".

Another scene depicts an auto court and the couple who manage it discussing how they wonder if the two people they have just rented a room to are really married, because the young man asked for a rope, a blanket and a trumpet. The husband tells his wife he knows they are married because he saw the license.

The scene closes with a trumpet sounding, the "Walls of Jericho" falling and the lights going off in the room in which Peter and Ellie are staying. Due to the strictures of the time, the device was the only plausible one that would be acceptable to a "general" audience.

Neither Gable nor Colbert was the first choice to play the lead roles. Miriam Hopkins first rejected the part of Ellie. Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy were then offered the roles, but each turned the script down, though Loy later noted that the final story as filmed bore little resemblance to the script that she and Montgomery and been offered for their perusal. Margaret Sullavan also rejected the part. Constance Bennett was willing to play the role if she could produce the film herself; however, Columbia Pictures would not allow this. Then Bette Davis wanted the role, but was under contract with Warner Bros. and Jack Warner refused to loan her out. Carole Lombard was unable to accept, because the filming schedule conflicted with that of “Bolero”. In addition, Loretta Young also turned it down.

Harry Cohn suggested Colbert for the role, and she initially turned it down. Colbert's first film, “For The Love Of Mike” had been directed by Frank Capra, and it was such a disaster that she vowed to never make another with him. Later on, she agreed to appear in “It Happened One Night” only if her salary had been doubled to $50,000, and also on the condition that the filming of her role be completed in four weeks so that she could take her well-planned vacation. Her blackmail planned backfired and she was signed to the role.

One story that has circulated for some time stated that Gable was lent to Columbia Pictures as some kind of ‘punishment’ for refusing to take a role at his own studio. Columbia Pictures at the time was considered to be a minor studio. However, this tale has been refuted by more recent biographies. The true story was that MGM did not have a movie project ready for Gable, and the studio was paying him his contracted salary of $2,000 per week whether he worked or not. Louis B. Mayer lent him to Columbia Pictures for $2500 per week, hence netting MGM a whopping $500 per week while he was gone.

After filming was completed, Colbert complained to her friend, "I just finished the worst picture in the world”. As it turned out, it became a major hit, easily Columbia's biggest hit for 1934. After her Academy Award nomination, Colbert decided not to attend the presentation, feeling confident that she would not win the award, and instead, planned to take a cross-country railroad trip. After she was named the winner, studio chief Harry Cohn sent someone to ‘drag her off’ the train, which had not yet left the station, and take her to the ceremony. Colbert arrived wearing a two-piece traveling suit.

At the Academy Awards for 1934, “It Happened One Night” became the first film ever to win the big five awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

On December 15, 1996, Clark Gable's Oscar was auctioned off to Steven Spielberg for $607,500; Spielberg promptly donated the statuette to the Motion Picture Academy. On June 9, of the following year, Claudette Colbert's Oscar was also offered up for auction by Christie’s Auction House, however no bids were ever made on it.