Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Movie Review: I Like the Mushy Stuff

I'm still on deadline, and so I'm recycling another of my Vagabond blogs--a movie review for Review Tuesday.

“Oh, I like mushy stuff!” So says Ellen “Ellie” Andrews in my favorite romantic comedy, It Happened One Night. Directed and co-written (uncredited) by Frank Capra, who also gave us It’s A Wonderful Life, IHON won all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor—Clark Gable, Actress—Claudette Colbert, Director, and Screenplay) in 1934. More than 75 years after its release, the movie continues to delight the hearts of those who agree with Ellie’s taste for the “mushy stuff.” 

IHON has every thing to capture the hearts of romance lovers. First, most of us love the Cinderella motif, and IHON is a reverse Cinderella tale. Ellie Andrews, a spoiled heiress runs away from her privileged life when her father is determined to annul her marriage to a fortune-hunting rake. She finds herself living a life of 10-cent hamburgers, grungy bus rides, and cheap cabins. Her “prince” is the smart-mouthed, recently jobless newspaper reporter, Peter Warne.

IHON combines two other favorite themes of our genre, the road romance and the cabin romance. Ellie and Peter’s adventures take them on the road via bus, foot, and automobile. One of the most famous scenes in the movie has them hitchhiking. Peter, manlike, is convinced that he knows all there is to know about proper hitchhiking techniques. After lecturing Ellie, he proposes to demonstrate his skill, but the cars keep whizzing by them. Ellie then takes a turn, lifts her skirt, exposing a shapely leg, and a car stops immediately. Her victory gives her the opportunity for a great line: “Well, I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.” 

When Ellie and Peter are forced to share a cabin, Peter assures the unhappy Ellie that she is safe from his attentions. He divides the twin beds by a clothesline with a blanket over it and tells Ellie that it is the “walls of Jericho,” an impregnable fortress since he has no trumpet. He also does a partial strip in a chest-bearing scene that rivals current romance covers. In face, the bare-chested Gable was so sexy that he supposedly put a huge dent in undershirt sales with this scene. When he gets to the belt, Ellie retreats to her side of the “walls,” but she has her sexy moment too as the camera captures her silhouette and the lingerie she casts over the clothesline. The split-frame scene that follows with the two in their separate twin beds is a classic shot.

We romance readers fall in love with writers who excel at witty banter and emotionally charged exchanges. In this area too IHON is designed to charm us. Even early scenes between Ellie and her father are sure to evoke a smile.

Ellie You've been telling me what not to do ever since I can remember.
Mr. Andrews: That's because you've always been a stubborn idiot.
Ellie: I come from a long line of stubborn idiots.

The best banter, of course, is between Ellie and Peter. I love their exchange after Ellie has picked up on Peter’s cues and thrown detectives searching for her off course. I took the title of my post from this scene.

Peter: Hey, you know, you weren't bad jumping in like that. You've got a brain, haven't you!
Ellie: Well, you're not so bad yourself.
Peter: You know, we could start a two-people stock company. If things get tough, we'll play the small-town auditoriums...
Ellie: What about Cinderella or a real hot love story?
Peter: Oh no, no, no. That's too mushy.
Ellie: Oh I like mushy stuff.

As for the emotional charge, there is a tender moment when Peter shares his dream of escape to a Pacific island: “That's where I'd like to take her. She'd have to be the sort of a girl who'd jump in the surf with me and love it as much as I did. Nights when you and the moon and the water all become one. You feel you're part of something big and marvelous. That's the only place to live. The stars are so close over your head you feel you could reach up and stir them around. Certainly, I've been thinking about it. Boy, if I could ever find a girl who was hungry for those things...” 

IHON has its black moment too when Ellie and Peter misunderstand one another, and she is dressed in a wedding dress with guests assembled for a second ceremony with her playboy aviator, and it seems that this wealthy Cinderella and her ordinary-world prince will never be together. But this is a romance. We can count on the HEA, and we get one with sweetness and humor as a trumpet sounds and a blanket falls to the floor, and the screen goes dark.  

If you need an excuse the see it, IHON is significant in film history. It became a pattern for the successful “screwball comedies” of the 1930s and 40s. The American Film Institute places it  #8 on their 100 Funniest Movies list, #35 on their 100 Greatest Movies list, and #38 on their 100 Greatest Love Stories list. But I suggest you watch for the first time or the fifteenth just because it is a perfect film for those of us who “like the mushy stuff.”   

 Are you a fan of romantic comedies? What’s your favorite?


Anonymous said...

I love the mushy stuff, and I love romantic comedies. To me, it's the perfect combination of wit and banter and falling in love, all while being entertained and getting that HEA.

Yeah, I definitely like the mushy stuff. :)


Janga said...

I totally agree, Donna. Of course, most of my favorite rom coms are from the 30s and 40s. I do like some from later periods, but many just lack the romance and the comedy of the golden age.