Brief Encounter and It Happened One Night
Brief Encounter is a melancholy, noir-like film that gives its main characters little satisfaction in the end and emphasizes the importance of faithfulness to one’s marriage. It Happened One Night is also focused on marriage, but gives the characters a happy ending and allows for more progressive thought, despite being the earlier film. Brief Encounter is full of passion, which can only be expressed through censorship and underlined by constant reminders of the protagonist Laurel’s self-awareness and morality.
Copra’s film makes the scandal of annulling a marriage, outlandish behavior and youthful Ignorance more acceptable with the use of screwball comedy. While both films represent love restrained by the Institution of marriage and the censorship present outside the film’s story world, Brief Encounters allies view of society remains within its given boundaries, and It Happened One Night effectively avoids these restrictions using comedy. Sexuality is a central topic in It Happened One Night whereas Brief Encounter is more focused on domesticity and society.
The noir-style viceroy narration in Brief Encounter borrows from the (noir) genre in that it isolates the protagonist’s thoughts in the context of a bleak, oppressive environment (towards which Laura feels a duty); opposition in It Happened One Night is often not taken seriously and Is only shown in the characters’ surface reactions. Each of these films shows a response to authority and opposition, characterized by antagonists and societal figures; the films address gender roles and female autonomy; as well, Brief Encounter and It Happened One Night contrast love against Institution.
All of these topics are expressed In different ways due to the tragic or comedic nature of each film, which in turn reflect censorship and the ability to transcend it in the Classical era. The authority and symbols of traditional British and American society that inhibits each of these two films’ main characters is represented in opposing ways: in Brief Encounter, with bleak frustration, and in It Happened One Night, with comic exaggeration. In Brief Encounter, Laura describes her husband, Fred, as “kindly, unemotional, and not delicate at all”.
This is a direct contrast to Laura and Ale’s passionate relationship, and Fred is the figure In the way of that relationship. Fred also lends to the dull, static energy of the English society that Laura feels confined by. She Is confined In her home and In her marriage, and feels no choice but to seamlessly blend in, while expressing her frustration through her viceroy onscreen emotions are divided between how she acts with Aleck in private, and how she speaks to her husband or other societal fugues (her friends, shopkeepers, etc. ).
Fred is always shown in the domestic setting of their home, alongside Laura. They are always both dressed sensibly, and they speak politely to one another. In the scene at the beginning of the film where Laura comes home from the train station, she is visibly upset and her husband offers comfort by suggesting they sit by the fire. She says, Mimi have the most peculiar ideas of relaxation”. They sit quite far apart from ACH other, and Laura symbolically fills the space between them by playing the music that underscores the scenes with Aleck throughout the film.
At this point, the audience is bored by Fred, and Laurel’s frustration with him is noticeable but subtle, as she remains dignified. Fred is not unkind, unfair or preposterous in any way; he is Just dull. Another example of Laurel’s opposition being characterized is with her insufferable and extremely talkative friend’ Dolly, who interrupts Laurel’s final meeting with Aleck. At one point, when Dolly is talking, there is an extreme close-up of ere mouth, with reverse shots of Laurel’s face in a pained expression. In these shots, Dolly is talking about marriage and says, “One has one’s roots”.
She reminds Laura of her obligations and Laura must agree. Laura cannot respond with the way she really feels, and Dolly’s role loses most of its comic relief because Laura is so quietly miserable. Conversely, two of the opposing characters in It Happened One Night, Else’s father (Mr.. Andrews) and Pewter’s editor CEO) have comic roles, making the main character’s conflicts with them less troubling. The establishing shot of the film is of the Andrews’ rage and elaborate yacht, with many uniformed men standing on the deck.
This is an image of opulence that leads to the next shot, a medium shot of Mr.. Andrews talking to the boat’s captain (? ). The two men are dressed in stiff uniforms and have moustaches, and immediately appear to be somewhat silly and old-fashioned. Mr.. Andrews says, “Why don’t you Jam it down her throat? ” an extreme response to the news of Else’s proposed hunger strike. Elli, contrasted against her father in a demure white gown, responds to him in the next scene by yelling at him, knocking over the food tray, and diving over the side of the boat.
She is childish, but not without agency, and is not subdued into painfully quiet dignity like Laura. She and her father are also mostly shot with equally even-height angles, allowing him no extra dominance. In Brief Encounter, Laura is often shot from above, taking away power. These opening scenes in It Happened One Night play out with physical comedy and fairly unrealistic, exaggerated dialogue that add lightness to the conflict between Elli and her father over her marriage. Similarly, when Peter Warner is introduced, he is arguing with his editor over the phone in a booth.
Peter is visibly intoxicated but not unpleasant, as an attractive young man with the support of an encouraging crowd around the booth. Reverse shots of the editor, Joe, show a stuffy older man surrounded by indicators of business and authority: a large desk in an office, papers, a cigar. Peter calls him “monkey face” and is unthreatened by Joey’s power, even to the point of ignoring when Joe fires him from the newspaper; Peter continues, technically unemployed but unmoved, to pursue his intended story about Elli.
The editor is both unrefined and childish at first, but presenting their authoritative counterparts in comical way as foolish and intolerant of younger, more progressive generations, makes the main characters more favorable to the audience. This is different from Brief Encounter because although Laura and Aleck are sympathetic, they are ultimately without full agency and must be punished by society and would otherwise likely be viewed as immoral.
Female autonomy is not fully achieved in either film; though It Happened One Night legitimates female sexuality and rebellion, both films ultimately encourage conventional marriage. However, It Happened One Night has a lighter tone that distracts from Else’s lack of independence. When Peter and Elli stay at a motel, they register as husband and wife, with Peter being unmarried and Elli hoping not to be recognized, whereas Laura and Aleck masquerade as friends in order to save face as two separately married people.
While both couples keep the idea of marriage in mind to main respectability, Elli is not trapped by her actual marriage to King Wesley. The physical comedy necessary to distinguish the screwball genre in It Happened One Night allows Elli to explore her sexuality outside of her marriage without consequence. She can act silly and undignified in the company of others, with such taunts as exposing her leg to flag a passing car for a ride. She also successfully annuls her marriage to King Wesley with minimal scandal, mostly because Wesley, unlike Brief Encounters Fred, is equally undignified.
Mr.. Andrews actually approves more of Peter and his vehemence, so as not to disappoint viewers who have invested in Peter and Else’s charming and lighthearted Journey. Laurel’s limitations are much more noticeable in Brief Encounter. She calls her friend to corroborate a lie she told to Fred, and is constantly having to act awkwardly prim and insincere in front of other people. In It Happened One Night, when Peter and Elli lie to detectives in the motel, the whole scene is hilarious and exaggerated, with no pain behind their lies.
They appear to enjoy the farce, and Elli is liberated, being allowed to act out. In Brief Encounter, this is not the case, as Laurel’s one break from her evenly kept exterior in front of Dolly, and in public, is shot differently from the rest of the film. When Aleck leaves for the last time, Laura listens to his train start up and the camera tilts into a canted angle that remains as Laura runs outside to stand close to the moving train, ND tilts back to normal when she regains the sense of bleak mediocrity that has otherwise stopped her from doing anything drastic.
She expresses her desire to “feel nothing” and is unable to change her circumstance in any way. The relationships in each film are frequently given context with lighting and music; Brief Encounter is shot like film noir with long shadows, high contrast and music that suggests tragedy and disturbance, and It Happened One Night is shot with mostly high-key lighting and without a recurring musical theme.
In It Happened One Night, Peter and Elli sit together in broad daylight, trying to hitchhike, actively calling attention to themselves to any possible passers-by (fig. 1). In Brief Encounter, Laura and Pewter’s relationship is generally restrained unless they are removed from the bright light of the public eye; they spend time together as a romantic couple in a dark boat, out on the water.
Unlike the close-up shots of Else’s exposed leg and Peter and Else’s brightly lit hitchhiking maneuver, when Laura and Aleck embrace, it is almost in complete darkness, cast in heavy shadows and in a long shot in the train station (fig. 2). (fig. 1) (fig. 2) The end of each film is also marked by distinctive sounds: a trumpet sounds rampantly at the end of It Happened One Night as the “Walls of Jericho’ blanket, the physical divide between Elli and Peter, falls to the ground to symbolize the consummation of their marriage.
The same music plays loudly at the end of Brief Encounter, dietetic in this scene as it plays on their record player, and it emphasizes the feeling of melancholy as Laura is stuck forever with Fred. Both endings give a sense of finality in marriage, but only one film ends happily with a comic bit (the hotel owners discuss the absurdity of the married couple requesting a trumpet). Brief Encounter ends with Aleck and Laurel’s romantic theme set against the domestic rigidity and Laurel’s unhappiness, giving a reminder of unfulfilled passion.
Both Brief Encounter and It Happened One Night show romance restricted by society in the films’ stories, and the censorship in Hollywood that prevented full expression of sexuality and immorality. These films are stylistically similar in some ways, both from the Classical era, shot with conventional conversation shots, and emphasizing the importance of marriage. It Happened One Night is a comedy, its tone lighter due o high-key lighting, exaggerated characters and physical gestures, and highly unusual circumstances.
The comedy genre allows for more freedom, thinly veiling references to sexuality and deviation from traditional marriage. The darker tone of Brief Encounter gives a more realistic portrayal of restrictions of the time, and the unhappiness that could result from any deviations from the rules. Despite their similarities, as the similarities rise from the popularity of love and marriage as concepts in Hollywood cinema, these two films have entirely different aims in using romance as a central focus.