Characteristics of a Screwball Comedy in “It Happened One Night”

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  • Topic: Marriage, It Happened One Night, Slapstick
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  • Published : October 10, 2011
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Characteristics of a Screwball Comedy in “It Happened One Night”

Frank Capra’s 1934 classic Hollywood narrative, “It Happened One Night” is the perfect example of a screwball comedy. One of the most prevalent themes in the movie is the socioeconomic divide between Peter Warne and Ellie Andrews. Ellie is from a well-to-do family and Peter is just a reporter. In the scene where the child on the bus is in distress due to his ailing mother, we see that Ellie is frivolous with money, even though it’s not hers. On the other hand, Pete is sensible and tries to teach Ellie how to do the same. In the movie, they constantly refer to “the walls of Jericho”, which is what kept them away from each other. In the literal sense, the blanket dividing their beds in the hotel was the walls of Jericho. We can also look at their different locations on the social hierarchy as the walls of Jericho. Another important characteristic of a screwball comedy that the movie exhibits is slapstick comedy, physical and visual action, including harmless or painless cruelty and violence. The perfect example of it is the hitchhiking scene. Both Ellie and Peter use physical comedy to try to get rides. Next is an idea of courtship or marriage, and in this movie, we get both. Ellie starts off first by trying to marry King, however, she ends up courting and marrying Pete Warne. The last central theme was keeping an important secret. In this movie, it was Ellie trying to hide her identity in the beginning of the movie from Pete, Shapely and the guards at the hotel.

“It Happened One Night” follows all “rules” of a classic Hollywood narrative. Firstly, it’s character driven, meaning the plot progresses because of the actions of the characters, instead of the characters reacting to events beyond their control. Secondly, it has a clearly defined conflict- between Pete Warne and Ellie Andrews-that thirdly, unifies everything in the movie. The clarity of each of these concepts is important in...
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