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Classic screwball or rom-com? Whichever “It Happened One Night” shines on 4K UHD

Updated: Jan 9, 2023


Clark Gable plays newspaper reporter Peter Warne, and Claudette Colbert plays runaway heiress Ellie Andrews. The two meet on a bus heading to New York and their madcap adventure has many twists and turns.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1934, Not Rated; streaming via Amazon Prime (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: A conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate, “Screwball Comedy?”

SURPRISINGLY, the finest bonus feature within the two-disc Frank Capra’s screwball masterpiece “It Happened One Night,” part of the six-film Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection – Volume 3, is a 38-minute conversion between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate. It was originally recorded for The Criterion Collection’s 2014 Blu-ray edition and marks the first Criterion featurette to be ported over. It’s clearly a welcome addition as their perspective elevates the film’s importance in American cinema.

Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 3

When “It Happened One Night” first hit theaters in February 1934, there was no Hollywood hoopla. Even leading lady Claudette Colbert was on record complaining, “I just finished the worst picture in the world.”

But this comedy sleeper about mismatched lovers (Colbert and Clark Gable) who meet on a bus heading from Florida to New York went on to win five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing, Adaptation. Some of its scenes have become oft-imitated classics, like the bit where Colbert shows some leg to catch a ride while hitchhiking.

“It Happened One Night” has also made Academy history, as the first of three films to win all five major Oscars, preceding “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Silence of the Lambs” (1991). Over the years it never lost its charm, as evident by the American Film Institute voting “It Happened One Night” No. 46 within its 100 Greatest American Films list, landing between the western “Shane” (1953) and the adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). Two other Capra films cracked the AFI list: No. 20 “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) and No. 26 “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).

(1&2) Based on a short story, “Night Bus,” published in Cosmopolitan magazine. “It Happened One Night” premiered in New York on February 22, 1934. (3) Ellie has gone on a hunger strike after her father Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) kidnapped her after she eloped with King Westley, a playboy aviator. (4&5) Ellie jumps off her father’s yacht and the crew can’t find her. (6) The drunk Peter Warne gets word from his editor that he’s been fired.


Capra’s son, Frank Jr., provides a number of backstories during a two-decade-old featurette and commentary, including how Gable was loaned out for the film by MGM’s Lewis B. Mayer as punishment for wanting a raise, then checking himself into a hospital claiming exhaustion when he was turned down. Hollywood’s top leading ladies refused the female lead, including Myrna Loy and Margaret Sullavan. To woo Colbert, who was heading out for a ski vacation, Capra promised to finish the picture within four weeks and double her normal $25,000 per week fee. Even so, she refused to show her leg in the famous hitchhiking scene until a body double was hired. “Get her out of here! I’ll do it,” Colbert snapped.

Haskell and Lopate debate the merits of “It Happened One Night” during their featurette. Does it really qualify as a screwball comedy? It lacks the physicality of Howard Hawks’ “Twentieth Century” released that same year Haskell points out. Carole Lombard kicks John Barrymore “like an eggbeater,” she says. Lopate pipes up: “It doesn’t have that much rat-a-tat dialogue,” so prevalent in Hawks’ quintessential films “His Girl Friday” and “Bringing Up Baby.”

But the duo eventually warm up to “It Happened One Night,” citing Capra’s “snap-snap cuts.” Haskell quotes her husband, the late film critic Andrew Sarris, who characterized screwball comedies as “a sex comedy without the sex.” Nowhere is that more visible than in the movie’s “Wall of Jericho” scene. Gable stretches a blanket across the room to provide the couple some privacy in a motel cottage. Sexual tension builds as the audience watches them undress. “It’s a movie all about sex and there’s not a single kiss,” Lopate says.

(1-3) Peter boards the bus heading from Miami to New York City. He and the bus driver (Ward Bond) have a back-and-forth argument, while Ellie takes the last back-row seat. (4&5) Initially they dislike each other, but by the time they get to Jacksonville, she’s fallen asleep on his shoulder.

Capra originally wanted Robert Montgomery to play the drunken journalist, but the character of Peter Warne became one of Gable’s most memorable roles, “Right up there with [Rhett Butler in] ‘Gone With the Wind,’” Haskell says. Warne is a defensive, washed-up reporter. The role mirrored the times – a “Depression moment,” symbolizing the millions of men who had lost their jobs and were trying to hold on to their self-respect and dignity.

The witty dialogue is based on a short story, “Night Bus,” published in Cosmopolitan magazine. Capra had Columbia purchase the rights for a mere $5,000, while he and screenwriter Robert Riskin decided to make Colbert’s Ellie Andrews less spoiled, and swapped Gable’s character from an artist to a newspaperman. Right out of the gate there’s the snarling exchange between Warne and the bus driver played by Ward Bond, as they go back and forth. “Yeah.” “Oh, yeah?” “Oh, yeah.” “That repartee is not quite the knockdown, drag-out verbal gymnastics that you have in some films,” Haskell says.

But it really starts kicking between Gable and Colbert, bickering like a southern couple, as detectives show up looking for the runaway heiress. Ellie has been trying to escape her Wall Street tycoon father. Dad is not pleased his daughter has married (in name only) a dashing ne’er-do-well.

“When a love story rings true on the screen, it catches up both audiences and players in its wonderment. An emotional chemistry happens between two people that transcends the film itself.” — Frank Capra

“The Walls of Jericho”

(1-6) Peter and Ellie are forced to spend the night in an auto lodge cabin and pretend to be married since Ellie had her luggage stolen with her clothes and money. Peter strings a rope between the two beds and hangs a blanket for privacy and calls it “The Walls of Jericho.” Gable’s chest was one of the sensations of the film. (7) The next morning Ellie waits in line to shower.

The only extra on the 4K disc is the 1956 remake “You Can’t Run Away From It,” (HD and newly remastered) with June Allyson as the runaway heiress and Jack Lemmon as the unemployed newspaperman. Honestly, it’s missing the on-screen magic, with actor/singer Dick Powell directing the color CinemaScope film, that follows the couple on a Greyhound bus from San Diego to Houston.

An enclosed 80-page book within the Columbia Collection includes a nine-page essay “Falling in Love with ‘It Happened One Night’” by Kate Erbland, showcasing nearly 20 behind the scene and publicity photographs.


Sony Pictures has been a Hollywood leader in scanning its treasured films in 4K. The restoration of “It Happened One Night” began more than a decade ago, giving the American classic a striking new look. Who would expect a film about to celebrate its ninth decade could have such a sharp picture and balanced grayscale showing all the subtleties? The enclosed Blu-ray was also sourced from the 4K master, but lacks the added resolution and dynamic contrast range.

Over 98 percent was scanned from an exceptional Fine Grain Master, sourced from the original 35mm camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio). What remained was plugged with second-generation and rare third-generation prints seen in a few seconds here and there. The new HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading takes this edition to new heights with its expanded grayscale highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. “At first, there was concern about how this title would fare in HDR,” says Rita Belda, Vice President of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The inconsistencies between the sharp and rich contrast of the camera negative to the washed-out excess grain of the dupe sections were the challenge. Plus, HDR accentuated camera flicker and the dirt, but advancements in software tools in the last decade were able to address the problems, Belda says.


The original 2.0 mono soundtrack has been restored removing pops, hiss, and other audio imperfections to give the front-and-center dialogue-driven film a clear and audible presentation.

“No one in 1934 could have imagined that we would still be marveling over this gem nearly a century later. We are grateful that we can bring a true Columbia Classic to you in a new format, so you can fall in love with it all over again.” ― Rita Belda

― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) Ellie’s disappearance has become a newspaper headline. (2&3) Annoying passenger Oscar Shapeley (Roscoe Karns), spots Ellie and offers to split the $10,000 reward with Peter. But, he convinces Shapeley that he’s a ganger who kidnapped her. (3&4) Peter gives Ellie a ride across a creek and they spend the night in a barn.


Trying to Hitchhike - Man vs. Woman

(1-3) Peter struggles to get a ride for himself and Ellie. (4&5) She’s amused by his failure, and quickly stops a car by showing off her leg.


(1&2) Ellie gives herself up to her father, while Peter watches the police escort leading Ellie and her father back to New York. (3&4) Her father resigns to a formal wedding between her and King Westley (Jameson Thomas), who arrives in his experimental aircraft. (5) Wedding time.


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