It Happened One Night

Movie review by
Scott G. Mignola, Common Sense Media
It Happened One Night Movie Poster Image
Still one of the best screwball comedies.
  • NR
  • 1934
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Despite some old-fashioned gender dynamics with men talking down to and bossing around women, the ultimate message of the film is positive: People can change for the better. Also, parents cannot completely control their kids. And true love conquers all.

Positive Role Models & Representations

It’s 1934. Men are strong, protective, and powerful. Ellen Andrews wants independence, but has been raised to be helpless, friendless, and consider herself ineffectual. She is spoken down to and ordered around. As a result Ellen is often headstrong, frivolous, and demanding.


After a heated argument an angry father slaps his adult daughter’s face. The young woman then dives off the side of yacht and lands in the sea. We don’t see her emerge, but she appears, alive and well in a new scene soon afterwards. A scene with angry threats.


Some flirtatious moments -- with light sexual innuendo when the romantic leads are forced to share a room. They get partially undressed (he’s bare-chested; she’s in a slip) standing on opposite sides of a hanging blanket. A coarse man makes an awkward, silly pass at the heroine. In a famous hitchhiking scene, the leading lady reveals some leg to stop a motorist.


The hero calls the heroine “brat” throughout and orders her to “shut up,” more than once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In several scenes, characters are shown drinking, often to excess. Reporters in a group all appear to be tipsy; some are shown drinking whiskey directly from a bottle. The hero is drunk on two other occasions and once is told to "sober up." When she’s upset, the heroine rapidly consumes several drinks. Most characters smoke frequently: cigarettes, cigars, and a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that It Happened One Night is a funny and sophisticated early black-and-white romantic comedy. The behavior of the leading male and female characters reflects a gender inequality that was the norm for its time. The strong, dashing hero protects (and even babies) the vulnerable, needy "poor little rich girl." He calls her "brat," tells her to "shut up." She smiles and falls even harder for his brash charms. A fierce argument results in a father slapping his adult daughter in the face. There are flirtatious moments, "winks" to sexuality as the hero and heroine hang a blanket between them in a lodge room and undress on either side of it. Drinking and drunkenness are played for fun in several scenes, with slurred speech and back-slapping male camaraderie. Almost everyone smokes.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 13 years old Written byMax.Morfoot October 4, 2016

It Happens to be an Amazing movie

I absolutely love this film. Might be Frank Capra's best but It's a Wonderful Life might be better.
Teen, 16 years old Written bywho3697cares November 8, 2009
It's still very funny.

What's the story?

In the classic Frank Capra romantic comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, fate throws an unlikely pair -- reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable) and spoiled society woman Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) -- together on a bus headed for New York. Upon learning that she's fleeing her millionaire father to be with her disapproved-of new husband, Warne smells a headline and tags after her. The two grow close on the trip, and before they reach New York they're broke and in love.

Is it any good?

As fresh today as it was in 1934, this sharply written comedy is great fun from setup on through its lively, suspenseful final minutes. An instant hit in 1934, It Happened One Night was the first movie to win all five major Academy Awards. The manic story line established the formula for screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Frank Capra was a wonderful director with a knack for squeezing the charm out of his actors, which is evident all over the place here. He and screenwriter Robert Riskin would team up again for Meet John Doe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how comedies have changed and remained the same since It Happened One Night. How has slang changed? Can you figure out the meanings of unfamiliar phrases or words?

  • What do you think about how men and women are portrayed in this movie? What kinds of stereotypes are present? How have things changed in society and in movies since 1934 when this film was released?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and comedy

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