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Saturday, February 2, 2013

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy. Perhaps one of the quintessential examples of the genre and one of the best in terms of critical acclaim. In 1937 it one the "Big Five" Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, a feat which has only been duplicated twice since. In other words it is a very good film. The title however is a bit of a misnomer as the events of the film do not happen over one night, but several, a couple of weeks maybe. The title however is more metaphorical than anything else, meaning how easy it is to fall in love as demonstrated by the main character who was wooed by the male protagonist within a few days, and one night realized that she had already found what she had been questing for, love.

Now the film is about the journey, not the ending, and how such an event can change a person. The setting of the film is largely immaterial, serving only as a place for the two main characters to meet. It could have been on the west coast of the States and not the East or even in Europe and it would have made very little difference. The main element is that is is a road movie so things like cars would have to exist, though theoretically they could be substituted for horse and buggy, the plot would simply flow a little differently, and times would have to be changed significantly adding more believability to the protagonists falling in love, though changing the overall message.

The plot is simple, a girl has escaped from her father in Florida to go meet her soon to be husband in New York and encounters a charismatic gentleman on the road. Of course if everything went right there wouldn't be much of a story, so she loses her bag, and gets kicked off the bus, and has to hike and hitchhike her way with no money or place to stay. All of this with the help of the gentleman she met on the bus who is a reporter, and decides she will make a fine story. Of course the two fall for each other despite having great differences and in the end the girl decides that she doesn't want to marry the man she set out for and goes off to find the man from the bus and they live happily ever after. The scene where she decides to go off and abandon her fiance is almost the exact same from the future movie Spaceballs.

Ellie, the female protagonist, starts off as a spoiled brat, and ends the movie much the same, though aims to improve on that as she has been show the error of her ways and is at least seeking some atonement. Peter has not changed much, though after meeting someone he truly loved he realized that money is not that important without someone to be with. It is not indicated very clearly in the beginning of the film if money matters that much to him however, so the development is not very clear cut. Mr. Andrews always wanted his daughter to be happy, and by the end of the movie she is with someone she loves so he is happy. He doesn't change much over the film always wishing the best for his daughter, though his personal distaste for her fiance does prevent the marriage, something which in the end was for the best for both characters.

Early on in the film there is a man named Oscar Shapely who hits on Ellie to show that she is attractive and to provide a comparison for Peter, who is not brutish or sexist but kind and caring. Later on Oscar offers to split the reward money for Ellie but Peter declines him showing that he has really fallen for the girl and cares for her, demonstrating the romance very clearly even when he can not show it in front of Ellie. King Westley would be the antagonist as he is an obstacle in the way between the two protagonists' love but he does very little in the film making him more of a scenery element than a character, a flashy playboy who is in only one or two scenes and barely speaks a line. Finally there is Peter's editor who spits out venom for Peter and acts disgusted by him but when he realizes Peter is really down on his luck he offers a caring word and tells him not to worry. He fulfills the jerk with a heart of gold archetype.

Many of the scenes from the film seem strange, especially for the time, but within the structure of the story they work well together. Another film that follows the same basic patters is Spaceballs, though it is much more of a goofball comedy with absurdist elements than one grounded like It Happened One Night. In both films however the universe established makes the actions seem normal and to fit in with the rest of the events, so the audience's suspension of disbelief is not broken, no matter how many strange things happen.

The dialogue is a tad dated now but is largely comical with serious moments at the right times. This kind of thing is typical of comedies from the 80's. With Ellie as young as she was it seems like this film created the baseline for many of the teen comedies of that decade, though because of standards at the time they were able to be much more liberal with the sex and gross-out humor than this film. This was however before the Hayes code and the heavy restrictions placed on films so it still very racy compared to films ten years later, when the code had come into affect. Despite the dialogue being dated it still has a very realistic feel to it because of the colloquialisms and speaking habits of the characters.

The ending is fairly typical, very fairytalesque but by bringing back a running joke from earlier in the film it adds humor to the end creating something a little more dynamic than a typical fairy tale.

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