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It Happened One Night Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 10+

Still one of the best screwball comedies.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that in this funny and sophisticated early black-and-white romantic comedy, the behavior of the leading male and female characters reflects a gender inequality that was the norm for its time. The strong, dashing hero protects (and even babies) the vulnerable, needy "poor little rich girl." He calls her "brat," tells her to "shut up." She smiles and falls even harder for his brash charms. A fierce argument results in a father slapping his adult daughter in the face. There are flirtatious moments, "winks" to sexuality as the hero and heroine hang a blanket between them in a lodge room and undress on either side of it. Drinking and drunkenness are played for fun in several scenes, with slurred speech and back-slapping male camaraderie. Almost everyone smokes.

  • Families can talk about how comedies have changed and remained the same since this 1934 film. How has slang changed? Can you figure out the meanings of unfamiliar phrases or words?
  • What do you think about how men and women are portrayed in this movie? What kinds of stereotypes are present? How have things changed in society and in movies since 1934 when this film was released?

The good stuff
  • message true1

    Messages: Despite some old-fashioned gender dynamics with men talking down to and bossing around women, the ultimate message of the film is positive: People can change for the better. Also, parents cannot completely control their kids. And true love conquers all.

  • rolemodels true0

    Role models: It’s 1934. Men are strong, protective, and powerful. Ellen Andrews wants independence, but has been raised to be helpless, friendless, and consider herself ineffectual. She is spoken down to and ordered around. As a result Ellen is often headstrong, frivolous, and demanding.

What to watch for
  • violence false1

    Violence: After a heated argument an angry father slaps his adult daughter’s face. The young woman then dives off the side of yacht and lands in the sea. We don’t see her emerge, but she appears, alive and well in a new scene soon afterwards. A scene with angry threats.

  • sex false1

    Sex: Some flirtatious moments -- with light sexual innuendo when the romantic leads are forced to share a room. They get partially undressed (he’s bare-chested; she’s in a slip) standing on opposite sides of a hanging blanket. A coarse man makes an awkward, silly pass at the heroine. In a famous hitchhiking scene, the leading lady reveals some leg to stop a motorist.

  • language false1

    Language: The hero calls the heroine “brat” throughout and orders her to “shut up,” more than once.

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: In several scenes, characters are shown drinking, often to excess. Reporters in a group all appear to be tipsy; some are shown drinking whiskey directly from a bottle. The hero is drunk on two other occasions and once is told to "sober up." When she’s upset, the heroine rapidly consumes several drinks. Most characters smoke frequently: cigarettes, cigars, and a pipe.

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