It Happened One Night: The Female Triumphs on Screen

April 14, 2011 | Danelle

I am currently enrolled in a Women’s Studies class which deals with women in film. We have watched quite a few movies already, but one that really stuck with me is the 1934 Frank Capra film It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It is widely accepted as the first romantic comedy, and I would also argue one of the best romantic comedies ever made. In fact, it was the first film to sweep all the major Academy Awards.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a spoiled heiress who runs away from her father to find her way to her newly eloped husband, fortune-hunter, King Westley. The movie makes clear she eloped in an unofficial marriage simply in order to defy her father, and when her father finds out, tries to keep her away from him. She ends up out-running, out-swimming, and out-smarting her way off her father’s boat and to a bus station headed to New York where she meets journalist Peter Warne.

Peter Warne (Gable), finds Ellie annoying, bratty, and unruly at first. He claims she does not know how to protect herself, which in some ways proves to be true, but in other ways proves to be quite the opposite. There were many times in the movie where Ellie deflated Peter’s over-inflated man-ego by outfoxing him – one famous scene is the hitchhiking scene here.

Their comedic adventure (here is a funny scene where they try to get rid of detectives looking for Ellie) to New York takes them to a deeper understanding of each other, and they fall in love. As in all movies, there is conflict and problems that keep them separated for awhile, but you can watch the movie to find out how exactly it happens!

Overall, I found this movie intriguing because the beginnings of feminism found their way into film. Film being notoriously “pro-male,” Ellie represents at times a helpless little girl, but at other times, symbolizes a feisty, independent, and clever young woman. Her father cannot tame her and neither can Peter for the most part. Obviously, it is a film of its time where women were just making their way onto the political and social scene (Ellie still does show some dependence on men like Peter or her father), but I give Capra credit for writing such a bold female character in the thirties and paving the way positively for women. Ultimately, I think the more “feminist” side triumphs, but that is also in the hands of the viewer.

I highly suggest you watch this movie–if you are anything like me, it will be your new favorite film. Plus, it is very interesting to see the progression of females in film! I will keep you all updated on more great examples of women in film!

Have any movie suggestions? Post them here!

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