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 facade 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 escape. As they travel northward and engage in a series of misadventures, the gruff newspaperman and the spoiled rich girl, thrown together by circumstances, who loses her initial disdain for him, begins to fall in love. The movie is considered a “screwball” comedy because the dynamic between Ellie and Peter, because it is not all one-sided.
Although Peter is quite bossy, Ellie sometimes gets the better of him. In the hitchhiking scene, for instance, it is Ellie, not Peter, who succeeds in getting the car to stop to pick them up. She remains herself, a bright, intelligent, strong-minded woman. The film is composed of a road trip by bus, car, foot, and by thumb in locales such as bus depots or interiors of buses, and the open road throughout the film by the social-class-unmatched couple.
From the very beginning of the story, these two characters have been down each other’s throats because their personalities are so different from the other one. Some of the most classic scenes were made: the “Wall of Jericho” scene in an auto-camp bungalow so that they can sleep in the same room, the doughnuts-dunking lesson, the hitchhiking scene, the night-time scene on a haystack in a deserted barn, and the dramatic wedding scene.
Ellie and Peter argued over everything from getting the seat on the bus in the beginning to the time when they were trying to find a place to sleep in the middle of the night when the bus broke down. Despite the witty remarks towards one another, they find themselves through all the fighting along with each other as a romantic relationship starts to bloom. Love triumphs in the end of the movie and the wall of Jericho falls down. Peter’s personality is completely different from Ellie’s personality.
Peter does not let things bother him, or at least does not let it show. Peter is constantly “playing it cool” when he is around Ellie, when actually he is just as desperate as Ellie is. Although Ellie and Peter have completely opposite personalities and tend to not get along very well, they begin to see the bright side of one another and fall in love. Even though the two are fighting, with no money, and no hope, they still are traveling trying to survive, but in the end everything tends to happen for a reason.