Study Guide

It Happened One Night Quotes

  • Love

    PETER: [I'm looking for] the sort of a girl that'd jump in the surf with me on moonlit nights—and love it as much as I did.

    This, in a nutshell, is Peter's ideal, and it becomes Ellie's, too, since as soon as Peter shares his vision, she senses its appeal and wants it to be her future as well. She's already that person, though. Just think: The first thing we see her do is jump into the sea and run away from her father. Her adventurous spirit is exactly what Peter wants.

    PETER: A normal human being couldn't live under the same roof with her, without going nuts.

    Peter may be right, if "going nuts" is just another name for being in love. Interestingly, It Happened One Night doesn't equate love with uninterrupted happiness. It's not all roses and lullabies: Love in this film is also about facing adversity and, above all, having fun together, even when that means being at odds. That's what keeps a life spent together interesting, the film suggests.

    ELLIE: How about Cinderella—or a real hot love story?

    This is what Ellie proposes she and Peter should perform when they take their show on the road. She says this just after she and Peter have successfully convinced the detectives sent by Ellie's father that she's someone else—specifically, Peter's wife. Here again, a character speaks more of the truth than she means to and in doing so predicts the future—since "a real hot love story" is eventually what the film itself becomes.

    DRIVER (SINGING): Hiking down the highway of love on a honeymoon.

    These words are sung, not spoken, by the driver who picks Ellie and Peter up when they're hitchhiking. Again, they're pretending to be husband and wife, and again they're not yet in a position to recognize the happiness and future honeymoon that it foretells. The Highway of Love, in fact, might have been another title for It Happened One Night.

    ELLIE: Peter, have you ever been in love?

    Here Ellie bravely pops the question—not "Will you marry me?" but "What does love mean to you?" Her willingness to ask lets her find out the answer, and that's what prompts Peter's comment about the "sort of a girl who'll jump into the surf." Note that here, too, it's the woman who shows guts, not the man. In this sense, as when she makes the decision to leave King Westley hanging at the altar, Ellie can be seen to wear the pants in that relationship. (Never mind that she's only ever seen in a skirt—or pajamas.)

  • Marriage

    KING: Ellie and I got married because we love each other.

    These words are King Westley's, and we can hear their hollowness as soon as he utters them. No one believes King Westley when he says this—least of all Andrews himself, to whom the words are addressed.

    ANDREWS: You'll be set free when the marriage is annulled.

    This is the deal that Andrews makes with his daughter in the film's first scene. Some deal, right? He's depriving Ellie of the right to choose her life partner; he wants to determine for her whom she can and whom she can't. And yet the film backs up Andrews's sense that King Westley's all wrong for her. At the same time, Peter probably wouldn't be Andrews's first choice of a hubby for his daughter, either, so the fact that he agrees with Ellie's later choice shows that he's evolved over the course of the movie.

    PETER: Listen—suppose I should tell you that Ellen Andrews is going to have her marriage annulled.

    Here's Peter on the annulment that Big Daddy Andrews has wanted from the first. He's gone to the office to ask his boss for $1,000—and to announce that he's going to be the lucky guy who'll wed Ellie. Some final ordeals still await the pair, but it's one of the film's great ironies that Peter ends up announcing the fulfillment of Andrews's wish.

    KING: I'm going to land on the lawn in an autogyro.

    King Westley uses the wedding as an excuse to perform a "stunt" that will get him lots of the attention he craves. This is, in Capra's view, no way to treat a swell lady like Ellie. And it's no wonder she finally gets the memo and flees.

    PETER: I want to see what love looks like when it's triumphant.

    Here Peter's mocking the headlines that have announced Ellie and King Westley's wedding. At this point, Peter thinks Ellie's still going through with that wedding. Luckily, she doesn't, and the film instead offers an unexpected image of "Love Triumphant": a blanket falling to the ground.

  • Society and Class

    PETER: Just a spoiled brat of a rich man. You and Westley'll make an ideal team.

    This is Peter's verdict before he gets to know Ellie. The film, of course, proves him wrong in more ways than one.

    PETER: Ever hear of the word "humility"? No, you wouldn't.

    This is from another of the speeches Peter delivers against the rich. He's hell-bent on reminding Ellie how spoiled she is, and this reveals his biases. And yet, the dude has a point, as Ellie herself seems to see, eventually, when she changes her ways.

    PETER: Say, where did you learn to dunk, in finishing school?

    Peter makes fun of Ellie for not knowing how to dunk a donut the right way. She's a quick study, though, and she thanks him for the pointers. Donuts here stand for simple food, and the viewer can imagine that Ellie's used to much fancier breakfasts.

    PETER: I never knew a rich man yet who was a good "piggy-backer."

    Like donuts, piggybacking stands for simple people and their ways; it's what Ellie hasn't really experienced and has yet to learn. It's a bit ironic, actually, given that the rich could be seen to be "piggybacking" on the hard work of the lower classes.

    ELLIE: Here, boy—first town we come to, buy some food.

    When Ellie gives the hungry boy on the bus money, Peter's impressed, because she really seems to have undergone a change. She can now see past her own troubles and acknowledge other people's suffering and needs. She can be generous as well as humble. It's almost as if part of the problem with Ellie before this trip was that, surrounded by luxury and other rich people, she never actually saw suffering herself. But when she does see it, she changes her ways.

  • Transformation

    PETER: Ever hear of the word "humility"? No, you wouldn't.

    This is where Ellie is when we first meet her, at least in Peter's estimation. By delivering this verdict, Peter gives a name to the entitled and superior condition that Little Miss Andrews must overcome.

    ELLIE: I'd change places with a plumber's daughter any day.

    We can't be sure she really knows what she's saying here, but we can be sure she means what she says. Ellie's giving voice to her dissatisfaction with her lot and letting us know that she's more prepared for the humbling she'll undergo than she might have seemed at first.

    ELLIE: Here, boy—first town we come to, buy some food.

    Again, this moment—when Ellie offers money to the hungry boy on the bus—lets us know that Ellie's transformation from poor little rich girl to full-fledged human being and independent woman is well underway.

    PETER: [I'm looking for] the sort of a girl that'd jump in the surf with me on moonlit nights—and love it as much as I did.

    Although she seems stuck-up to him at first, it's significant that Ellie has been "the sort of a girl" he describes all along: The first thing we see her do, practically, is jump off a ship and into the ocean—in other words, into the surf. This is no accident; it's a clue that lets us know that even if Peter doesn't recognize it at first, Ellie's always been his dream girl.

    ANDREWS: You've changed, Ellie.

    Indeed she has. Andrews names the transformation that we've been tracking in this section: Ellie's metamorphosis. The poor little rich girl is all grown up, and she's found her "humanness" and her "humility," to use the words that appear in the screenplay. Together with these qualities, Ellie's also discovered her appetite for life and love, and Andrews, improbably perceptive near the end of the film, picks up on the signals she's emitting, all of which suggest that she's a changed gal.