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It Happened One Night, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 396

Essay

Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night both reinforces fundamental, American ideologies as it highlights them, and consequently leaves them open to question.  On one level, and importantly, the film is an American fairy tale.  There is Colbert’s heiress as a damsel in distress, and there is Gable’s tough newspaperman as the knight who comes to her rescue.  This basic premise completely validates American belief systems of the era, in addition to being a fable; women in the world are attractive, but they cannot manage their own lives without the protection of a man.  This element of the film is illustrated in the scene on the bus, when Gable’s character decides to intervene on Colbert’s behalf.  She mindlessly calls to the man selling chocolate, ignoring that she has no money for such an indulgence.  Gable, the man, then sensibly “sets her straight,” so gender roles are perfectly established.  This same gender assignment works both ways as well, as when Colbert’s bare leg attracts a ride, after Gable’s “manly” efforts at hitchhiking fail.  The American notion of the woman as sometimes conniving, then, is gently reinforced.  Women, it is suggested, are typically helpless, but they know how to use their sexuality to gain an advantage. Even so, there is also the very pragmatic factor of Colbert’s having accomplished what Gable could not, which serves as a satire on masculine superiority.

American myth itself is championed later on, in the cheap room the characters must share.  More exactly, in the American ideology of the time, sexuality could exist only as a facet of deeper, substantial longing.  A real man, in other words, would never take advantage of the situation to victimize the woman, as Gable does not.  Similarly, a “good” woman could only be concerned with protecting her innocence, no matter any attraction to the man.  What Capra does allow, however, is a light kind of mockery over this entire scene.  First, he toys with ideas of female sexuality by having Gable verbally describe to Colbert how a man undresses.  Then, there is a nearly ridiculous strategy in place so that the two cannot even see one another prepare for bed, even as their conversation over these actions suggests real intimacy developing.  The more substantial the dialogue, as when the lights are out and Colbert is enraptured to hear of Gable’s dream, the more absurd seem the conventions separating them.

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