It Happened One Night: Screwball Comedy

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How the Wall of Jericho Falls
It Happened One Night set the place for the “screwball” comedy, the witty and romantic clash of temperaments between a man and a woman mismatched in both personality and social position. Through one of the greatest romantic comedies in film history, Frank Copra shows the outlandish nature of the rich and the nature of man being the controller in relationships as well as in society. It is the reversal of the Cinderella story, a modern tale with light hearted sex appeal in which courtship and love triumph over class conflicts, socio-economic differences, and verbal battles of wit. The fighting and struggles between the two main characters showed the man taking care of the woman, the social norms of how men and women should act around each other in that era. But the fighting and the banter also show a strong-minded and intelligent woman. The two strong-willed main characters balanced each other out. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is the one in which, on their travels, Ellie and Peter are forced to share a one-room motel cabin overnight and Peter hangs a blanket on some rope to provide the debutante the privacy and respectability she demands. The by-play of Ellie and Peter’s reactions on the separate sides of the blanket are brilliant evocations of what lies behind the façade men and women show one another in romantic situations. Along their journey, Ellie falls in love with Peter; but when he vanishes from the motel where they are lodged and contacts her father later; she believes he was only interested in the reward.

The escapist theme of the film is the story of the unlikely romantic pairing of a mismatched couple, which is appropriate during the Depression Era, of an indifferent and recently-fired newspaper man and a snobbish, superior-acting heiress a runaway on the lam. After discovering Ellie’s true identity, Peter decides to help her so that he can get an exclusive story about her life, her marriage, and her...
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