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Spoiled heiress Ellen "Ellie" Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries fortune-hunter "King" Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father (Walter Connolly) who has the marriage annulled. She runs away, boarding a bus to New York City, to reunite with her new spouse, when she meets fellow bus passenger Peter Warne (Clark Gable), an out-of-work newspaper reporter. Warne recognizes her and gives her a choice: if she will give him an exclusive on her story, he will help her reunite with Westley. If not, he will tell her father where she is and collect the reward offered for her return. Ellie agrees to the first choice.
Soon penniless, Ellie has to rely completely on Peter. As they go through several adventures together, Ellie loses her initial disdain for him and begins to fall in love. When they have to hitchhike, Peter claims to be an expert on the subject. As car after car passes them by, he eventually ends up thumbing his nose at them. The sheltered Ellie then shows him how it's done. She stops the next car, driven by Danker (Alan Hale), dead in its tracks by lifting up her skirt and showing off a shapely leg.
The hitchhiking sceneWhen they stop for a break, Danker tries to drive off with their luggage. Peter chases him down and takes his car. One night, nearing the end of their journey together, Ellie confesses her love to Peter. Peter mulls over what she has said, decides he loves her too, and leaves to make arrangements after she has fallen asleep. When the owners of the motel in which they are staying notice that Peter's car is gone, they roust Ellie out of bed and kick her out.
Believing Peter has deserted her, Ellie calls her father, who is so relieved to get her back that he agrees to let her marry Westley. Although Ellie has no desire to be with Westley, she believes Peter has betrayed her for the reward money, so she agrees to have a second, formal wedding. Meanwhile, Peter has obtained money from his editor to marry Ellie, but as he drives back to tell her, they pass each other on the road.
Ellie tries to pretend that nothing has happened, but she is unable to fool her father. She finally reveals the whole story (as she sees it). When Peter comes to Ellie's home, Mr. Andrews offers him the reward money, but Peter insists on being paid only his expenses: a paltry $39.60. When Ellie's father presses him for an explanation of his odd behavior, Peter admits he loves Ellie (although he thinks he is out of his mind to do so), then storms out.
At the wedding ceremony, as Mr. Andrews walks his daughter down the aisle, he reveals to Ellie Peter's refusal of the reward money and quietly encourages her to run off again, telling her that her car is out back for a quick get-away. At the point where she is to say "I do", she makes up her mind. She runs off to find Peter. Her pleased father pays Westley off, enabling Ellie to marry Peter.