Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
It Happened One Night (1934)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Zeke and his proprietress wife (Blanche Frederici), the owners of the autocamp, who suspect that their tenant has skipped out without paying, barge into Peter and Ellie's cabin. They surprise and awaken Ellie in the cabin who is unaware that Peter (her 'husband') has gone. On waking, Ellie misunderstands Peter's intentions, believing that she has been deserted and abandoned by him and sold out for a story. The proprietress believes that she has been compromised: "Listen, next time, you better not come back here. I run a respectable place." Ellie telephones her father from the Sheriff's office in town near the autocamp to come and get her - the timing of the call coincides with her father's withdrawal of objections to her secret marriage to King Westley.

After Peter is paid by the City Editor for his yarn, he rushes from the newspaper office, musses up secretary Agnes' (Bess Flowers) hair and kisses her ("Oh, you're beautiful! All women are beautiful!"). Just after he has left, Gordon is phoned by an informant and told that Ellen Andrews gave herself up, decided to go home, and is to be picked up by her father and King Westley. He feels double-crossed by Warne, now regarded as a "dirty crook", and orders Agnes to call the police department and arrest him.

Warne has a frantic drive back to the cabin in the Model T, since he plans to arrive before Ellie wakes up. He intends to claim and marry Ellie, and sings wildly:

Young people in love
Are never hungry

He is overtaken and passed by three cars with a squealing police motorcade escort - he is unaware that the limousines are carrying King Westley and Mr. Andrews on their way to pick up Ellie. When Peter is close to arriving in the town, he is stopped at a railway crossing, as a freight train rumbles through. Some of the cars carry hoboes - Warne salutes one of them and also waves at a car-full of transients who happily cheer back - sensing an affinity with him.

When the train finally passes, he watches a forlorn Ellie being driven away in the opposite direction, but he is unable to signal her - his car breaks down while pursuing them. From the expression on his face, he believes he was taken for a ride and played for a sap. Both believe that they have been in the company of a traitor.

Headlines from the newspapers for the next few days announce her return and plans for a large formal, proper church wedding: "ELLIE ANDREWS RETURNS HOME," "'GLAD TO BE HOME,' SAYS ELLEN," "LOVE TRIUMPHANT - FATHER YIELDS TO LOVERS' DEMANDS," "ANDREWS INSISTS ON REAL MARRIAGE CEREMONY! - Scoffs at Justice of Peace Vows", "ELLEN ANDREWS AND WESTLEY TO HAVE CHURCH WEDDING," "LOVE TRIUMPHS AGAIN - Family Rift Smoothed Out as Marriage Nears," and "'CAN'T THWART LOVE' SAYS FATHER OF ELLEN ANDREWS."

In Gordon's newspaper office, Peter resumes his newspaper-man life and returns his scoop money of $1,000. He leaves a message for his boss: "Tell him I was just kidding." Then he tells Gordon in person: "I'm sorry. It was just a little gag of mine. I thought I'd have some fun with it...It wouldn't have made a bad story at that."

On the day of Ellie's lavish, formal wedding, to take the place of her elopement - a formal re-marriage to her original husband, the newspaper headlines read: "ELLEN ANDREWS REMARRIES TODAY - Father Ignores Elopement - Insists on Church Wedding - Groom to Land At Wedding in Autogyro." Ellie's father judges Westley's gyro stunt and remarriage to his daughter: "Personally, I think it's silly too." He realizes that his saddened child is despairing and miserable and has some misgivings about entering into a loveless marriage to King Westley after falling in love with another man "on the road":

Mr. Andrews: Now don't tell me you've fallen in love with a bus driver...Who is he?
Ellie: I don't know very much about him. Just that I love him.
Mr. Andrews: Well, if it's as serious as all that, we'll move heaven and earth to...
Ellie: No, it's no use. He despises me.
Mr. Andrews: Oh, come now.
Ellie: Yes he does. He despises everything about me. He says that I'm spoiled and selfish and pampered, and-and thoroughly insincere.
Mr. Andrews: Oh, ridiculous.
Ellie: He doesn't think so much of you either...He blames you for everything that's wrong with me. He says you raised me stupidly.
Mr. Andrews: Now that's a fine man to fall in love with.
Ellie: Oh, he's marvelous!

Unenthusiastic about the planned wedding, Ellie tells her father about Peter: "I practically threw myself at him." But she is reluctant to cancel wedding plans with Westley: "I don't want to stir up any more trouble. I've done it all my life. I've made your life miserable and mine too. I'm tired Father. I'm tired of running around in circles...I've got to settle down. It doesn't matter how or where or with whom." She doesn't know where Peter is and doesn't expect to ever see him again.

In her father's possession, Ellie discovers a typewritten letter from Peter asking for a financial interview:

Dear Sir:
I would like to have a talk with you about a financial matter in connection with your daughter.
Peter Warne

Ellie interprets Peter's interest in her as only "a financial matter" - a cold, hard-hearted demand for the $10,000 payoff reward. Mr. Andrews sets up a meeting with Peter, shortly before the nuptials, to settle accounts. He assumes (along with his daughter) that Peter only wants to collect the reward offered, but ends up having an embittered Peter request reimbursement for his trip expenses and then admit his love for his daughter:

Mr. Andrews: Mr. Warne?
Peter: Yeah.
Mr. Andrews: Please sit down.
Peter (sitting): Thanks.
Mr. Andrews: I was surprised to get your note. My daughter hadn't told me anything about you, about your helping her.
Peter: That's typical of your daughter. Take those things for granted. Why did you think I lugged her all the way from Miami - for the love of it?
Mr. Andrews: She thinks you're entitled to anything you can get.
Peter: Oh she does, eh? Now isn't that sweet of her. You don't, I suppose.
Mr. Andrews: I don't know. I'll have to see on what you base your claim. I presume you feel justified -
Peter: If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. (He pulls a list from his pocket.) I've got it all itemized.
Mr. Andrews: (Reading the list) 'Cash outlay, $8.60; topcoat, $15; suitcase, $7.50; hat, $4; three shirts, $4.50. Total, $39.60. All the above items had to be sold to buy gasoline.'
Peter: And I sold some shorts and socks too. I'm throwing those in.
Mr. Andrews: Yes, I know -
Peter: What's the matter? Isn't it cheap enough? A trip like that would cost you a thousand dollars. Maybe more!
Mr. Andrews: Now let me get this straight. You want $39.60 in addition to the $10,000?
Peter: What $10,000?
Mr. Andrews: The reward.
Peter: Who said anything about a reward?
Mr. Andrews: I'm afraid I'm a little bit confused. I assumed that you -
Peter: (Standing, too annoyed to sit) Look, look, look, all I want is $39.60. And if you give me a check for it, I'll get outta this joint. It gives me the jitters.
Mr. Andrews: You're a peculiar chap.
Peter: Yeah, we'll go into that some other time.
Mr. Andrews: The average man would go after the reward. All you seem to -
Peter: Listen, did anybody ever make a sucker out of you? This is a matter of principle. Something you probably wouldn't understand. But when anybody takes me for a buggy ride, I don't like the idea of having to pay for the privilege.
Mr. Andrews: Were you taken for a buggy ride?
Peter: Yes. With all the trimming. So how about the check? Do I get it?
Mr. Andrews: Certainly.
Peter: Thanks.
Mr. Andrews: (Smiling, he writes a check.) Here you are.
Peter: Thank you.
Mr. Andrews: Oh, ah, do you mind if I ask you a question frankly? Do you love my daughter?
Peter: Any guy that'd fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined.
Mr. Andrews: That's an evasion.
Peter: She picked herself a perfect running mate: King Westley! The pill of the century! What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day - whether it is coming to her or not. If you had half the brains you're supposed to have, you'd have done it yourself long ago.
Mr. Andrews: Do you love her?
Peter: A normal human being couldn't live under the same roof with her without going nutty. She's my idea of nothing!
Mr. Andrews: I asked you a simple question! Do you love her?
Peter: (As he departs and slams the office door.) Yes! But don't hold that against me. I'm a little screwy myself.

As Peter leaves, he notices Ellie in her satiny wedding gown toasting her high-society marriage, surrounded by male wedding guests:

Ellie: Well, here's to the merry go round.
Peter: (Ellie sees Peter coming out of her father's office.) Perfect. Now you look natural. (She walks over to him.)
Ellie: I hope you got your money.
Peter: You bet I did.
Ellie: Congratulations.
Peter: Thanks, same to you.
Ellie: Stay around and watch the fun. You'll enjoy it immensely.
Peter: I would, but I've got a weak stomach.

The documentary-style, formal ceremony/society wedding on the lawn of the Andrews mansion (with bridesmaids, ushers, flower girls, etc.) begins when King Westley lands in an autogyro (an early form of a helicopter) - two newsreel cameramen crank their cameras to record the festivities before top-hatted guests. As Ellie is escorted to the altar down the long, crowded wedding aisle and across the grass, she is arm in arm with her father. The Wedding March is played by an orchestra. Out of the side of his mouth, Mr. Andrews whispers Peter's love for her, admires his integrity, and then offers her an escape plan to elope with Peter - an expensive interruption for the costly ceremony:

That guy Warne is OK. He didn't want the reward. All he asked for was $39.60, what he spent on you. Said it was a matter of principle. You took him for a ride. He loves you Ellie. He told me so. You don't want to be married to a mug like Westley. I can buy him off for a pot of gold. And you can make an old man happy and you won't do so bad for yourself. If you change your mind, your car's waiting back at the gate.

Ellie reacts passively, not revealing her intentions. At the last moment during the dramatic ceremony when asked by the white-surpliced priest: "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, so long as ye both shall live?" and expected to say "I will," Ellie breathes heavily, rolls her eyes up and down twice, bites her lip, shakes her head (to signify no), curtsies briefly, hikes up the long train of her wedding gown, and turns and bolts across the sloping lawn to a waiting car. The newsreel cameramen race to capture the fleeting, panicking image of the runaway bride. The train of her long white veil billows out behind her as she escapes - once again similar to the film's opening - from the wedding ceremony and from all the oppressive restrictions and upper-class values of society - to a getaway car waiting at the gate (with Peter Warne in it?).

Smoking a big stogie, Mr. Andrews - who was instrumental in helping his daughter escape - feigns ignorance to King Westley about what has happened: "I haven't the slightest idea." Later, the Wall Street tycoon pays his "would-be ex-son-in-law" King Westley $100,000 to not contest the aborted marriage, explaining how grateful and relieved he is: "Well, I'm not complaining. Oh no, not complaining. It was dirt cheap."

In the clever conclusion following their down-to-earth courtship, Ellie and Peter finally realize that they love each other and share a like-minded, independent sense of resilience, crazy adventure, companionship, fun and indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and class differences. They both discover that what they were looking for all along was right there in their relationship 'on the road' - learned and established after traveling together by bus, on foot, and auto across the backroads of Depression-stricken 1930s America. And they had already experienced starvation, lack of sleep, and 'living in sin.' The rich heiress ultimately endorses the lower, working-class values exemplified by the poor newspaperman in the film's resolution.

On the lam again, they go to Glen Falls, Michigan - two lovers married and ready to share their honeymoon together, but uncertain whether the annulment of her marriage to Westley has come through. A telegram arrives from Peter to Mr. Andrews: "What's holding up the annulment, you slowpoke? The walls of Jericho are a-toppling." He orders a telegram returned to them, dictating an answer that is supportive of their marriage: "Send them a telegram right away. Just say, 'Let 'em topple.'"

Peter and Ellie have gone to a familiar locale as newlyweds - a secluded autocamp in Michigan. They have just received Mr. Andrews' telegrammed response and have secured a marriage license. In the final scene outside their cabin, the autocamp manager and his wife speculate on the young couple who have just rented the cabin and made strange requests for a rope and a blanket:

Auto Camp Manager's Wife: Funny couple, ain't they?
Auto Camp Manager: Yeah.
Auto Camp Manager's Wife: If you ask me, I don't believe they're married.
Auto Camp Manager: They're married all right. I just seen the license.
Auto Camp Manager's Wife: They made me get them a rope and a blanket on a night like this. What do you reckon that's for?
Auto Camp Manager: Blamed if I know. I just brung 'em a trumpet.
Auto Camp Manager's Wife (puzzled): A trumpet?
Auto Camp Manager: Yeah, one of them toy things. They sent me to the store to get it.
Auto Camp Manager's Wife (puzzled): But what in the world do they want a trumpet for?
Auto Camp Manager: Dunno.

The autocamp keeper and his wife turn toward the outside of the motel cabin, when they hear the sound of a tinny trumpet blast. The toy trumpet metaphorically announces the toppling of the walls of Jericho - now, all sexual barriers and walls between the couple fall down. A blanket falls to the floor, the lights go out and the film ends on this mischievously suggestive, romantic note.

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