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It Happened One Night

January 24, 2017

It Happened One Night

Written by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Shooting Draft, 1934

Screwball Comedy (Film), written as one long document with no pagination  

 

"Afraid of a mere girl. Ridiculous!" - Lacey

 

The first element of It Happened One Night that really captured me was the set up of Ellie, the movie's feisty female protagonist. A ship full of sailors is frightened of her, all refusing to bring her a meal as she's thrown ketchup bottles at and otherwise previously attacked anyone who has dared to enter her cabin. The phrase "afraid of a mere girl" is repeated three times, quickly setting up the comedy. I could not wait to meet Ellie, and, when we do meet her, she doesn't disappoint - she's ready to attack, holding a vase over her head. 

 

While Ellie is lovesick and needs saving throughout much of the film -it is often implied that she would completely fail at her journey and possibly die if it weren't for Peter - thanks to the opening scene, I never view her as weak. She's passionate and committed and, if this movie were being made today, I'd want to play Ellie.

 

The other element that really caught my attention was the use of a blanket to divide the rented rooms in which Ellie and Peter spent their evenings. It provides a great visual for their relationship. First, it separates the room and divides them. Next, it serves as a flirtation with Ellie's slip and other undergarments appearing over the top after she gets changed. This serves as a visualization of Peter's inner turmoil and allows us to really see his inner struggle. Throughout the movie the visual is continued and Ellie and Peter often talk to each other from opposite sides of the divide. It is only at the end, when the two characters have declared their love for each other, that we see the blanket finally fall to the floor. I think the use of the blanket is brilliant as it externalizes the internal, emotional struggle of the characters. I'll definitely look for opportunities to do similar things in my writing.

 

It Happened One Night may be from the 1930s, but it had me laughing close to 100 years later. The humor endured, and I really enjoyed this read.

 

 

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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