It Happened One Night - A scene analysis

Recently I, Justine, watched and reviewed 1934's It Happened One Night as a Patreon-only podcast episode. If you would like to become a Patron to access this, please visit and we would greatly appreciate it!

I would like to elaborate about one particular scene- the Walls of Jericho. You can watch it here and then we'll discuss. :D

First of all, sorry for the crappy youtube quality, you can rent the movie on Amazon and I highly suggest it!

Let's talk about the shots we have and how they cut together.

A medium wide shot (MWS) of Ellen- that's head to knees here.

A medium shot (MS) of Peter- head to waist (closer more intimate).

Then we cut to a matching MS of Ellen. They're both center framed, on metaphoric even ground.

A few cuts back and forth between these Mediums as he references the blanket, but not a wider shot to show the blanket referenced or a wide shot of the room to illustrate where they are in the space. Why? Probably because we're still keeping things intimate and not giving the audience relief, like how Ellen doesn't have relief. 

We cut to a MWS of Peter sitting on the bed, to show his action and then back to the MS of Ellen and the camera FOLLOWS HER to sit on the bed. We are more focused on Ellens actions because we are wondering how she is going to handle this moment.

We cut back to the MS of Peter as he's taunting her. We follow Ellen's eyes as she's looking screen right. He's looking screen left so our brain intuits that they're making eye contact with each other but THEY AREN'T! There's a blanket between them that we can't see. The editing puts them together.

Ellen asks Peter to put out the light and he does so and then opens the blind behind him. I love the cinematography here as they are both now mirrored with the windows behind them creating beautiful silhouettes.

We cut to the MWS of Ellen and it's a shot that's leaving room for her to stand up into. It's not something that we would do today. It's predictable and it's dictating the edit. We would either probably cut on action or match on action* to cut between a MS and Close Up (CU).

Now Ellen starts to undress and we start off with everyone all loose and comfortable within their respective frames. We cut to a MS of Ellen. Then a Medium Close Up (MCU) of Peter and he looks over to the blanket. This is the closest we've gotten to him in this scene. It's the shot that makes you go, "What is he thinking?" because we are focusing so much on his face now.

We now get the first kind of Shot Reverse Shot** in the scene. I say kind of because Peter is looking at the blanket, not another character. So in the that previous shot we she him look over, What is he looking at? This shot answers it. And then we go back to his face. How does he feel about what he just saw? It's classic Kuleshov Effect.***

Peter asks her to take her garments down off the wall. So we get the same shots back and forth because it's 1934 and we cannot show Ellen getting changed but the closeness of the shots keeps up the sexual tension.

We have an MCU of Ellen so we don't see her dressing below frame and then back to the MCU of Peter. It's like they are maintaining eye contact because of their position in their frames.

The next shot is the MWS of Ellen getting into bed and tension is released.

Now we have a match on action of a CU of her getting comfortable in in bed. What is the next shot going to be??? She sits up and asks Peter what his name is and it cuts to the matching shot of him. Then we cut to that beautiful wide shot! I love this shot, it's my favorite in the scene. You see the clear division between them and thus are reminded of their metaphoric division. The barrier we must break before the end of the film. I wanted it to linger longer.

Notice how in the next few lines of dialogue we use the Medium shots and then jump to matching medium wide shots, only to go in close again as they become more flirty. Then to top it off after Peter refers to Ellen as Mrs. Warne- a CU of her face and she takes in this comment. Then we go from that Close Up to her face back to that beautiful Wide to remind us exactly where we stand in the world.

And from this-

download (1).jpeg

We get this-

When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally

Where else have you seen this before?


*Cutting on the action is a cut that is done in the middle of an action. The shot changes to a different angle when the character that the viewer has most focus on is in a middle of an action.

**Shot Reverse Shot a film technique where one character is shown looking at another character (often off-screen), and then the other character is shown looking back at the first character.

***Kuleshov Effect- look it up, you won't regret it. :)