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It Happened One Night: The Battle of the Sexes

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    lawless

    Here I am again, bringing up gender theory, but it seems to be what I live for these days.

    More seriously, as mentioned in the introductory thread, It Happaned One Night struck me as more similar to No Regrets For Our Youth than One Wonderful Sunday. As has been discussed, the relations between the sexes is an important part of both of these Kurosawa movies.

    A couple of things struck me about It Happened One Night in that regard: First, how much more sniping and snark went on between Ellie and Peter than Yukie and Noge in No Regrets or Masako and Yuzo in One Wonderful Sunday, even though It Happened One Night predates the others by twelve years. It’s a striking reminder of how cultural differences affect the relationship between the sexes. Although I found Gable’s character more charming than Colbert’s, I admired how she stood up to him and wisecracked right back. She felt no need to hide her brains or take a backseat to him, nor did he require her too.

    And yet there are themes and dialogue in It Happened One Night that seem positively backward in comparison to the Kurosawa movies. Was anyone else bothered by Ellie’s father slapping her in the face and Gable’s Pete continually threatening to sock her (and, to be fair, others) and saying she deserved to be socked? The willingness to resort to physical violence may be peculiarly American, but it still brought me up short, especially when aimed at a woman. It reminds me too much of the days when physical abuse of a wife or girlfriend was considered par for the course and no one else’s business. On the other hand, it was a different era; perhaps I should translate such dialogue into “You make me so angry that I want to slap you.”

    The other thing that bothered me about It Happened One Night was what was said when Pete admitted how much, and what, he’d thought about falling in love. What should have been the linchpin of the movie struck me as incredibly cheesy and eyeroll inducing. If it hadn’t been for other dialogue, their body language, and actions, especially Pete’s running off to see his editor, I wouldn’t have found Pete and Ellie falling for each other at all believable.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    And yet there are themes and dialogue in It Happened One Night that seem positively backward in comparison to the Kurosawa movies. Was anyone else bothered by Ellie’s father slapping her in the face and Gable’s Pete continually threatening to sock her (and, to be fair, others) and saying she deserved to be socked? The willingness to resort to physical violence may be peculiarly American, but it still brought me up short, especially when aimed at a woman. It reminds me too much of the days when physical abuse of a wife or girlfriend was considered par for the course and no one else’s business. On the other hand, it was a different era; perhaps I should translate such dialogue into “You make me so angry that I want to slap you.”

    It did shock me a little! There is no way that would be shown on a modern film. But I think its very much a cultural thing – certainly, a bit of mutual face slapping was pretty common in 1930’s films. Whether it was a cinematic shorthand, or whether it represented a generally higher tolerance of physical violence, I’m not sure. I think its the latter – in plenty of cultures today, a slap to the face would not be considered abusive.

    In the context of the specific film, I think there was a deliberate contrast between the threats of violence and the play-acting in the motel room where they pretended to be a squabbling, white trash couple. There was a real sense of violence in the argument they had. I think that it was intended that there was a real distinction between what might be called ‘play violence’ and the real thing – implicitly of course, it was a class thing – for white trash southerners it was nasty and unpleasant, for the ‘nice’ well brought up characters, it was all part of a sort of sexy banter.

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    Vili Maunula

    I actually took all the talk about “socking” to be quite harmless and empty talk, and the slap to be more of a theatrical device than any sort of a manifestation of the era. I could be mistaken, of course.

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    lawless

    Vili – I imagine that’s how it was meant and taken at the time as well, but with the controversy over such things as Jackie Gleason’s catchphrase in The Honeymooners of saying “To the moon, Alice!” and shaking his fist at the actress portraying his wife to epitomize his anger and the greater seriousness with which domestic violence is treated these days, it no longer seems funny or harmless to many of us. I think most people, male and female, in the US would find it odd; from Ugetsu‘s reaction, maybe in the UK and Ireland as well. I don’t know if Finland has a different history with or lower incidence of domestic violence than the UK and US, where, for awhile, it seemed close to normalized, but if it does, that might explain the difference in reactions.

    I could read the slap theatrically but for the fact that much of the rest of the movie relies on a man’s acting in a gentlemanly fashion toward her. Perhaps it’s different because it’s her father. Gable spanking her as they crossed the stream bothered me less, perhaps because it also served other purposes — in this case, being subtly suggestive.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    Gable spanking her as they crossed the stream bothered me less, perhaps because it also served other purposes — in this case, being subtly suggestive.

    Maybe its just me, I didn’t find the suggestivity of that scene so subtle ­čś│

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    Vili Maunula

    I wonder if the word “it” in the title of It Happened One Night is supposed to have a sexual connotation. I guess not, since they could use it. I just remembered that in an IMDb thread someone mentioned that the title of Belle of the Nineties, released the same year as It Happened One Night, had to be retitled from its original title (and the title of its source material) It Ain’t No Sin. Although there the suggestion is more straightforward.

    lawless: I don’t know if Finland has a different history with or lower incidence of domestic violence than the UK and US, where, for awhile, it seemed close to normalized, but if it does, that might explain the difference in reactions.

    I’m not sure, but my understanding is that domestic violence is quite common in Finland, yet not much talked about until recently. Last year, one of the country’s best known authors actually talked about the topic in an interview with a Danish television program, and she has reportedly since received death threats from Finnish viewers angry about her portraying Finland in such a negative light. Which, I suppose, is kind of ironic.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    I wonder if the word “it” in the title of It Happened One Night is supposed to have a sexual connotation.

    Some people see sexual connotations everywhere! So far as I know, the Hays Code only really got strict from 1934 onwards, so it may well be that they were trying to push the limit – censorship boards as we discussed on another thread weren’t always all-knowing and all-seeing. The whole film is full of little double entendres, and I think it makes it all the more delightful that we know they were pushing against the prudes of the Hays Office.

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    Vili Maunula

    Haha, very Freudian indeed.

    You are right, July 1st 1934 seems to have been the date after which all films needed to get an approval. It Happened One Night came out in February, whereas Belle of the Nineties was released in September. That could explain why the former didn’t get censored, while the latter did.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I guess the spank only seemed subtly suggestive to me because there’s also a strong suggestion that she’s acting (possibly deliberately) childishly, so the gesture also reads like a parent (or adult, if you will) reproving a child. Which also plays into what he says about her father not slapping her (i.e., disciplining her), though unbeknownst to him, her father has.

    I hadn’t intended to bring this up because it opens another can of worms, but the scene later on where her father comforts her made me mildly uncomfortable at a couple of points because they looked and acted more like lovers than father and daughter. Maybe it’s because it’s not uncommon for men to date women much younger than themselves; maybe it’s because Colbert doesn’t look all that young or innocent; maybe it’s the positioning.

    The whole film is full of little double entendres

    Indeed! I assumed that the “it” in the title was meant to be suggestive as well as vague. Although I’ve occasionally pushed back here when Vili has read images as phallic symbolism, I don’t think the choice of carrot for the snack that Gable found in the field is accidental.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I hadn’t intended to bring this up because it opens another can of worms, but the scene later on where her father comforts her made me mildly uncomfortable at a couple of points because they looked and acted more like lovers than father and daughter.

    I picked that up too. I think there are two reasons: First, as discussed before Colbert was a little old for the part – it may have seemed less ‘off’ if it had been a younger actress, more clearly a ‘little girl’. Although according to Wikipedia, the first choices were Miriam Hopkins or Myrna Loy, neither of whom were all that young either. I think also there was a slightly clumsy attempt to flip the audiences opinion of the father from thinking he was domineering to being actually very loving. So the scene may have been overplayed a little in order to make the audience change their mind about him in time for the wedding scene.

    Although I’ve occasionally pushed back here when Vili has read images as phallic symbolism, I don’t think the choice of carrot for the snack that Gable found in the field is accidental.

    That hadn’t occurred to me! Maybe its significant that Colbert refused the offer. Incidentally, again, according to Wikipedia, the film inspired the invention of Bugs Bunny. He was allegedly a mix of Oscar Shapely (the annoying guy on the bus), Bugs Dooley (the fictional gangster Gable invented to scare him), and the carrot munching. Could be true!

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – She refuses at first, but is shown munching on the carrot later on — while sitting next to him in the car, if I remember correctly. I had originally made a snide remark about what it would have been like if he’d given her a banana, but I excised it as inappropriate. It’s not likely he would have found a banana in that field anyway. ­čśÇ

    As for Bugs Bunny: if true, that’s an interesting genesis for a kid’s cartoon character.

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    Vili Maunula

    The carrot hadn’t occurred to me as being anything but a carrot, but who knows. As you say, it kind of is a naughtier film than it seems.

    Also I was a little surprised about the scene with the father later on in the film, although once again, I just accepted it as part of the film’s theatricality. It seems like I was ready to accept quite a lot from the film makers, now that I think about it. I wonder why.

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