It Happened One Night is a 1934 film starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It tells the story of the wealthy Ellen Andrews and her journey to New York City, where she hopes to reunite with her would-be husband against her father’s wishes. She is assisted by Peter Warne, who knows of her plight and also the hefty reward her father is offering for her return. The film was the first to win all five of the major Academy Awards, a feat which would remain unrepeated for over 40 years.
The film makes some powerful statements about love during the Great Depression, although the film itself makes no direct notes on the period. Ellen is wealthy beyond belief, the heiress to the massive fortunes of her father, a Wall Street Banker. The story catalogues the massive shift in her opinions towards Peter. It is obvious that the man she initially fell in love with, King Westley, is rich. He arrives to the wedding in an airplane. Peter, however, is not nearly as well off. He has to pawn his clothes and suitcase in order to pay for the gas they need to get to New York. He also has to trick the hotel owner’s to let them stay a night and pay later. When it comes time for him to try to marry Ellen, he doesn’t have the money and is forced to writer up a story of their time together to get the funds. But despite him not being as well off as her, he isn’t stringent with his money? When Ellen burn through most of her funds in a day, he supports her. When a young boy has no money to eat, he is perfectly fine with giving the boy money. Peter highlights the charity of the general populace: people who care for each other and help each other out in hard times, but who ultimately don’t like being taken advantage of. Ellen is initially put off by his blunt nature, but she eventually falls for him to the point of running away from her own wedding so that she can be with him. In the Great Depression, money was clearly had to come by, but It Happened One Night Clearly demonstrates that there were more important things than the cash in one’s pocket.
The film also speaks strongly about escapism. Ellen feels that she is caught up in a world where she isn’t able to do what she wants. However, throughout her journey with Peter, she finds opportunities to express herself. She even teaches him a thing or two as she grows into a worldlier person.