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As often in Hollywood's version of the '30s, the rich are sleek, fat, boozy, faintly ridiculous. The media (newspapers and their editors, in this case) make idiots of themselves in a montage of pinwheeling banner headlines: LOVE TRIUMPHANT! screams the "New York Mail" over the phony "yarn" of Westley and Ellie being madly in love.
When love actually triumphs (after the long journey in which Gable's newspaperman has almost prudishly refused to take advantage of Ellie's ardor and has declined her father's reward of $10,000), it is the victory of an ordinary American's honor over the opulent phoniness of too much money and of gaudily dishonest media.
Capra had an eye for basic American themes that keep reformulating themselves from one generation to another. You watch It Happened One Night with a sense that it's a contemporary story. Play a game: set down the Peter Warne character and the King Westley character as American archetypes and relocate them in the present. Which of them, would you judge, emerges triumphant in 2002?
Until Sept. 11, I would have said the sleek fraud King Westley (with his autogyro and chiseled money and bogus media) would get the girl and take over America. Now I am not so sure. We shall see. The movie's not over.