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

Returning to their bus trip northward on the next bus, in one of the film's funnier scenes, Ellie sits next to a fast-talking, obnoxious, traveling salesman named Shapeley (Roscoe Karns), known for his trademark line:

Shapeley's the name - and that's the way I like 'em!

The vulgar Shapeley makes an obvious pass at Ellie, showing amorous attention toward her. When she comments on his talkativeness, he quips back at her:

Well, shut my big nasty mouth! It looks like you're one up on me. You know, there's nothing I like better than to meet a high-class mama that can snap 'em back at ya. 'Cause the colder they are, the hotter they get. That's what I always say. Yes, sir, when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles. Ha, ha, ha, ha. (He nudges her with his elbow.) Now, you're just my type. Believe me, sister, I could go for you in a big way. 'Fun-on-the-side' Shapeley they call me, with accent on the fun, believe you me.

Overhearing their conversation across the aisle, Peter stands up and confronts Shapeley. With a chivalrous manner, he discourages the hassling advances by pretending to be Ellie's husband.

After dislodging Shapeley from the seat beside her, she thanks him but he tells her that he shut the man up for his own sake: "Forget it. I didn't do it for you. His voice gets on my nerves." Forcing his worldly experience on her when she imprudently wants to spend some of her fast-dwindling money on chocolate, he tells her: "How do you expect to get to New York at the rate you're going?...You're on a budget from now on...Shut up!" Possessing a rich-girl attitude but lacking money, she realizes that she is ill-equipped to argue with his condescendingly protective attitude, experiencing for the first time what it is like to be helpless and on her own.

Because of a storm that washes out a bridge, all passengers are forced to find accommodations for the night in cabins at Dyke's Autocamp [now known as a motel]. Quickly, street-smart Peter reluctantly realizes that they must again pretend to be married, share a cabin in the autocamp during the steady rain, and register as "Mr. and Mrs.," to save both money and embarrassment. Ellie appears out of the downpour at the cabin door holding a raincoat over her head, and warily notices the two single beds in the room decorated with chintz half-curtains. She is incredulous and quickly indignant, feeling "an unpleasant sensation" that he has been referred to as her husband:

Ellie: Darn clever, these Armenians? [Another similar slogan, "Damn(ed) clever, these Chinese!", was popular during WWII.]
Peter: Yeah, it's a gift.
Ellie: I just had the unpleasant sensation of hearing you referred to as my husband.
Peter: Oh yeah, I forgot to tell ya about that. I registered as Mr. and Mrs.
Ellie: Oh, you did...Well, what am I expected to do? Leap for joy?
Peter: I kinda half expected you to thank me.
Ellie: Your ego is absolutely colossal.
Peter: Yeah, yep. Not bad. How's yours? (He shuts and locks the door.)
Ellie: You know, compared to you, my friend Shapeley is an amateur. Just whatever gave you any idea I'd stand for this?
Peter: Hey now, wait a minute. Let's get this straightened out right now. If you're nursing any silly notion that I'm interested in you, forget it.You're just a headline to me.
Ellie: A headline? You're not a newspaper man are you?
Peter: Chalk up one for your side.

He explains that he is a newspaper reporter and needs to sell the "exclusive" story, "a day to day account" chronicling her "Mad Flight to Happiness," to his editor/boss to be in good graces and get his job back. He blackmails her to stay with him on the trip so he can help her reach King Westley. She is appalled and outraged, regarding him as an uncouth opportunist in her derogatory, sarcastic response: "There is a brain behind that face of yours, isn't there? You've got everything nicely figured out for yourself." If she rebels against him, he threatens to turn her over to her father: "Now that's my whole plot in a nutshell. A simple story for simple people. If you behave yourself, I'll see that you get to King Westley. If not, I'll just have to spill the beans to Papa."

In the very famous "Walls of Jericho" scene, one of the highlights of the film, he divides their twin-bedded bedroom into two parts by stringing up a clothesline. Then, as he drapes a blanket over the line between their two beds, she dryly observes: "That, I suppose, makes everything quite all right?" [The blanket symbolizes the wide gulf in classes that exists between them.]

He explains the arrangement:

Well, I like privacy when I retire. Yes, I'm very delicate in that respect. Prying eyes annoy me. Behold the walls of Jericho! Uh, maybe not as thick as the ones that Joshua blew down with his trumpet, but a lot safer. You see, uh, I have no trumpet.

Peter reassures her that he does not have a trumpet like Joshua did in the Bible to bring down the walls. He gives her his best pair of pajamas. When she is dubious about the arrangement, remains at the door, and refuses to go to her side of the wall "to join the Israelites," he undresses in front of her, taking one article of clothing off at a time, discoursing on the various ways men undress:

Perhaps you're interested in how a man undresses. You know, it's a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology. No two men do it alike. You know, I once knew a man who kept his hat on until he was completely undressed. Now he made a picture. Years later, his secret came out. He wore a toupee. Yeah. I have a method all my own. If you notice, the coat came first, then the tie, then the shirt. Now, uh, according to Hoyle, after that, the, uh, pants should be next. There's where I'm different...

He has bared his chest without an undershirt [said to set off a no-undershirt fashion trend at the time]. He demonstrates his shoes-before-pants style, and when he gets to his belt buckle warns: "After that, it's every man for himself." When he reaches for his belt and trousers, she hurriedly retreats to her side of the bedroom, and acquiesces in the arrangement. Later, he assures her:

Don't be a sucker. A good night's rest'll do you a lot of good. Besides, you got nothin' to worry about. The walls of Jericho will protect you from the big bad wolf.

As he mockingly sings the tune, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? she finally follows his lead on her side of the room and prepares for bed. Silhouetted against a rainy backlit window, she undresses in the dark, and flings her sexy undergarments over the top of the blanket. He lies back, smokes a cigarette, and stares up at the ceiling, requesting: "I wish you'd take those things off the walls of Jericho?" She then puts on his pair of lent pajamas and slips into bed. To cut the nervous tension and yearning across the blanket, Ellie anxiously sits up and asks her 'husband's/partner's name:

Ellie: By the way, what's your name?
Peter: What's that?
Ellie: Who are you?
Peter: Who me? (smiling) I'm the whippoorwill that cries in the night. I'm the soft morning breeze that caresses your lovely face.
Ellie: You've got a name, haven't you?
Peter: Yeah, I got a name. Peter Warne.
Ellie: Peter Warne. I don't like it.
Peter: Don't let it bother you. You're giving it back to me in the morning.
Ellie: Pleased to meet you, Mr. Warne.
Peter: The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Warne.

A closeup of her face and hands as she lies in bed (with eyes glinting in the light), and then a split-frame image of both of them on opposite sides of the blanket lying on their separate beds in front of rain-streaked windows, ends the scene.

The next morning, the sound of Ellie's millionaire father flying over the autocamp on his way north to New York awakens her sleep. The scene opens with a semi-domestic view of an American couple at breakfast. Peter [in a role reversal] has bought the groceries, set the table, and prepared and cooked eggs on the stove in the room - and even pressed her clothes. After Ellie has stood in a long line of bath-robed, middle-aged women and experienced the outside communal Ladies Shower and the 'Hooverville' setting of the autocourt, she sets the record straight for him, arguing that she is not a snobbish, spoiled brat:

You think I'm a fool and a spoiled brat. Well, perhaps I am, although I don't see how I can be. People who are spoiled are accustomed to having their own way. I never have. On the contrary. I've always been told what to do, and how to do it, and when, and with whom. Would you believe it? This is the first time I've ever been alone with a man!...It's a wonder I'm not panic-stricken...Nurses, governesses, chaperones, even bodyguards. Oh, it's been a lot of fun.

At breakfast, Peter gives the privileged heiress a memorable lesson in the art of dunking doughnuts and how real folks eat. He ridicules her inability to properly dunk:

Peter: Hey, where'd you learn to dunk? In finishing school?
Ellie: Aw, now don't you start telling me I shouldn't dunk.
Peter: Of course you shouldn't - you don't know how to do it. Dunking's an art. Don't let it soak so long. A dip and (he stuffs the donut in his mouth) plop, in your mouth. Let it hang there too long, it'll get soft and fall off. It's all a matter of timing. Aw, I oughta write a book about it.
Ellie: (Laughing) Thanks, professor.
Peter: Just goes to show you - twenty millions, and you don't know how to dunk.
Ellie: Oh, I'd change places with a plumber's daughter any day.

And then, to scare off a pair of detectives hot on Ellie's trail who stop at their cabin and ask questions, he directs and coaches her in a mock film scene - he musses up her hair, unbuttons part of her collared dress to make her look disheveled, and cues her with his loud, bullying voice. They pretend that they are husband and wife - their third instance of pretending to be married:

Ellie: A man here to see you, sweetheart.
Peter: Who, me? You wanna see me?
Detective: What's your name?
Ellie: Are you addressin' me?
Detective: Yeah, what's your name?
Peter: Hey, wait a minute! That's my wife you're talkin' to. What do you mean comin' in here? What do you want anyway?
Detective: We're lookin' for somebody.
Peter: Yeah. Well, look your head off and don't come bustin' in here. This isn't the public park...

Playing roles within roles, they engage in a make-believe domestic fight of a typically-married, quarreling couple - a rowdy wife and her argumentative husband:

Ellie: Now, don't get so excited Peter. The man just asked you a simple question.
Peter: Ohh. Is that so? Say, how many times have I told you to stop buttin' in when I'm having an argument?
Ellie: Well, you don't have to lose your temper.
Peter: (mocking her) 'You don't have to lose your temper.' That's what you said the other time too, every time I try to protect ya. The other night at the Elks Dance when that big Swede made a pass at ya.
Ellie: He didn't make a pass at me. I told you a million times.
Peter: Oh no. I saw him. Kept pawin' you all over the dance floor.
Ellie: He didn't. You were drunk.
Peter: Aw nuts. You're just like your old man. Once a plumber's daughter, always a plumber's daughter. There's not an ounce of brains in your whole family.
Ellie: Oh Peter Warne, you've gone far enough. I won't sit here and...
Peter: Aw, shut up!...Quit bawlin'! Quit bawlin'!

Embarrassed by witnessing their bursts of temper and tears, the flabbergasted detectives leave as the automanager comments: "I told you they were a perfectly nice married couple." As they hurriedly prepare to board their bus to continue their flight, Peter kneels to help Ellie re-button her blouse, complimenting her on her inspired improvisation:

Peter: Hey you know, you weren't bad jumping in like that. You've got a brain, haven't you!
Ellie: Well, you're not so bad yourself.
Peter: You know, we could start a two-people stock company. If things get tough, we'll play the small-town auditoriums...
Ellie: What about Cinderella or a real hot love story?
Peter: Oh no, no, no. That's too mushy.
Ellie: Oh I like mushy stuff.

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