It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin based on a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams
(number 306)

When I looked up this movie I learned about the Hays Code, and how before it came in (shortly after this film was released) suddenly there was a lot less sex, drugs and strong women characters in the movies. It’s pretty compelling argument for tracking down more pre-code romantic comedies.

In the fine tradition of ‘once it’s old, Romantic comedies are fine’, this is a comedy about a society girl who runs away from her father, has to catch a bus with the hoi polloi and falls in love with a snarky newspaper reporter. It’s a pretty standard rom-com set up and it’s acted charmingly.

Here’s a bunch of current romantic comedy tropes this movie hits: everyone sings for some reason, lovers hate each other to start with and fall in love despite themselves, pretending to be a married couple at a hotel, one rich/high society and one working class, road trip fraught with disasters, gender differences brought to the foreground. That’s… really quite a few tropes you can see in modern movies, isn’t it? It works, I guess.

There’s lots of little illustrations of the depression in this film too. The boy crying on the bus because his mother’s sick and they spent their last money on the bus tickets, Ellie complaining of hunger repeatedly and there’s simply no money for food, the harsh reactions of some of the people they encounter. It’s beautiful, really because it’s never hammered home obviously, just these little touches which you wouldn’t see in a movie from the fifties.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. From the moment she defied her father and jumped off the yacht to swim to freedom I loved Ellen. How could you not love the sass? Peter took a little warming up to, especially as he’s very much the ‘do as I, a man, says!” and he spanks her for disagreeing with him at one point. But I absolutely wanted them to work it out so I’ll say it’s a win.

“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.”

Bechdel test: No 😦 Agnes the secretary is never in the same scene as Ellen and although Ellen talks to numerous women about the shower situation, and later when she’s thrown out of a hotel she talks to the woman owner, but none of those women are named.

Best line:

Alexander Andrewa: Oh, er, 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.
Alex: Now 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’s coming to her or not. If you had half the brains you’re supposed to have, you’d done it yourself, long ago.
Alex: 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!
Alex: I asked you a simple question! Do you love her?
Peter: YES! But don’t hold that against me, I’m a little screwy myself!

State of Mind: I just loved this one. It’s funny and engaging and interesting, lots of different scenery and various minor characters. Plenty of drama at the end too, brilliant pay off. Loved it and will watch it again.

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