Overused plot tropes in the 30's

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Dave Pitts

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Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 8:49 am

What are the plot devices that have worn out their welcome, as you watch the films of the 30's? There are some obvious offenders (such as black cooks and maids who are terrified of ghosts.) We buffs see so many of the old films that we begin to mentally catalog the lazy writing that moves a lot of the stories along. Here are some of the devices that flatten the impact of many a film for me:
1) Getting rid of the fifth wheel character (or the baddie with some kind of legal hold over the hero) in a car crash in the final reel.
2) Protagonist gets in a fist fight, not of his own choosing. He hits the other guy on the chin; this guy falls, usually near a fireplace, and strikes his head on the hearth or an andiron or whatever and is DEAD. This of course leads to a montage of trial and entry into the big house.
3) Doctors who look at a gunshot victim and almost immediately know that it's hopeless and they will not attempt treatment. Triage lasts about 2 seconds in the old movies. A related trope has the doctor telling the survivors exactly how long the injured person will live (usually five minutes), which leads to the Last Words Scene.
4) Not so much a plot device as the entire plot: mother loses her child because of her Reputation, then spends reels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 trying to get her child back. Unbelievable how many features came out with this plot.
5) In five-reel westerns, the Water Rights plot: baddie is going to cut off the old rancher's access to a stream. This was probably cheaper to film than the Cattle Rustling plot.
6) Girl believes for no good reason at all that her boyfriend has two-timed her (either on the word of some catty rival or through some innocent encounter she happens to see) and spends the rest of the movie slamming the door in his face, sometimes literally. Reconciliation in the last three minutes. This is the basis of a lot of Fred & Ginger, and it really takes their genius to get you through it.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 10:48 am

Another:
Many of the Warner early 30s crime movies, in which one or more bad kids (usually from the Dead End Kids) gets sent to reform school, where he's totally rehabilitated by a crusading warden, or a crusading district attorney, or a crusading reporter or editor, or a crusading good woman, or by some other do-gooderr.

(Warners meant well with these films, picking up on current criminology theory plus social reformers who saw the corrosive effects of poverty as the primary [even sole] cause of all crime. So I give Warners deserved props for their social conscience in frequently using this plot. But, lordy! They really overdid it with some incredibly soppy films!)
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 11:51 am

K in NC wrote:Another:
Many of the Warner early 30s crime movies, in which one or more bad kids (usually from the Dead End Kids) gets sent to reform school, where he's totally rehabilitated by a crusading warden, or a crusading district attorney, or a crusading reporter or editor, or a crusading good woman, or by some other do-gooderr.

(Warners meant well with these films, picking up on current criminology theory plus social reformers who saw the corrosive effects of poverty as the primary [even sole] cause of all crime. So I give Warners deserved props for their social conscience in frequently using this plot. But, lordy! They really overdid it with some incredibly soppy films!)

And I'll watch them over and over and over...and do...mainly because the trope today is simply watching the blood spill like an overturned paint can. I like my art painted with the product, not wasted by a bullet that can't miss because the weapon shoots 3000 rpm...
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 1:46 pm

20thFox used the same plot for their musicals.Boy gets girl,looses girl to best friend,gets girl back when she realises her silly mistake.The poor sucker is often Ralph Bellamy.He's never going to get Betty Grable or Alice Faye.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 2:12 pm

Dave Pitts wrote:6) Girl believes for no good reason at all that her boyfriend has two-timed her (either on the word of some catty rival or through some innocent encounter she happens to see) and spends the rest of the movie slamming the door in his face, sometimes literally. Reconciliation in the last three minutes. This is the basis of a lot of Fred & Ginger, and it really takes their genius to get you through it.


The gender reverse version is common, too, particularly in the silent era, but it's usually played for melodrama rather than comedy. If there is a child involved it becomes #4. Otherwise, it's usually that a woman has been inadvertently "compromised," sometimes through trusting the wrong person or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or it may be as trivial as the "innocent encounter" cited above. Husband/boyfriend almost never believes her so it's usually up to some third party to clear her name in his eyes. And even in the rare cases where he doesn't believe the worst, she has been assuming that he will because, well, that's just how men are in these films (operas have the same plot too). So she's often getting into more suspicious circumstances trying to cover up what shouldn't have been a problem in the first place.

greta
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 10, 2017 3:13 pm

greta de groat wrote:
Dave Pitts wrote:6) Girl believes for no good reason at all that her boyfriend has two-timed her (either on the word of some catty rival or through some innocent encounter she happens to see) and spends the rest of the movie slamming the door in his face, sometimes literally. Reconciliation in the last three minutes. This is the basis of a lot of Fred & Ginger, and it really takes their genius to get you through it.


The gender reverse version is common, too, particularly in the silent era, but it's usually played for melodrama rather than comedy. If there is a child involved it becomes #4. Otherwise, it's usually that a woman has been inadvertently "compromised," sometimes through trusting the wrong person or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or it may be as trivial as the "innocent encounter" cited above. Husband/boyfriend almost never believes her so it's usually up to some third party to clear her name in his eyes.

greta


I guess trust was not considered a plus in relationships then.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 2:33 am

Really wealthy guy (usually) wants to become a songwriter, Broadway star etc by his own efforts.
Family disapprove. Girl thinks he has stolen the money.

Half a million hoofers lived off that one.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 7:47 am

i Know - let's put on a show!
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 7:49 am

Donald Binks wrote:i Know - let's put on a show!


Using all of these tropes!

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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 7:59 am

There’s a familiar premise used often in romantic comedies, adapted from Ruritanian stories of royalty: a wealthy young gentleman (or lady) is being pressured to marry an undesirable, stuffy fellow aristocrat, so he (or she) goes on the lam and pretends to be lower-class. [Example: wealthy young Ray Milland gets a job working at the automat.] And then he (or she) meets the perfect mate among the Lower Orders, and they have a great time together until our protagonist has to face reality, go back, and confront the family.

The ending? Either our wealthy protagonist grows a spine and insists on marrying the desirable partner from the lower classes, or the latter turns out to have been a fellow aristocrat all along, also in disguise!

P.S. That second ending is meant to be a surprise twist, which it is until you’ve seen maybe 7 or 8 movies where this happens.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 9:08 am

Woman is married to a jerk or a loser or just merely charming but hopelessly irresponsible guy. A rich guy falls in love with her and offers her a way better life (or at least it is so presented) but she goes back to (or stays with) the problem guy because she loves him and sticks with her man. Unless the guy is so bad that he kills somebody or beats her up and she doesn't like it (rare) in which case he will die so she can marry the rich guy.

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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 9:26 am

Man harasses a woman until she marries him. Presumably that is the happy ending.

By the way, it's interesting to see the hostile work environment for women office workers. Even the boss' private secretary isn't immune as every male in the office from the boss to the clients down to the office boy and various delivery boys are authorized not only verbally harass her but interfere with her work. Then to top it off, just as she's leaving for the day the boss says they are working late and she has to cancel her date or eat the cost of her theater tickets or whatever, and they are going to work at his residence! The boss may be the good guy or the bad guy in the film, it doesn't matter, he has complete command of her before and after hours if she wants to keep her job.

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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 12:29 pm

greta de groat wrote:Man harasses a woman until she marries him. Presumably that is the happy ending.


This one still operating up until at least Say Anything (1989), which has one of the most iconic harrassment events ever filmed.
Last edited by silentfilm on Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 12, 2017 8:19 am

Another common premise in romantic comedies of the '30s: the old Pretending To Be in Love With Someone, and Then Actually Falling for Her (or Him). Lots of variations come into play with this one, but the basic pattern is familiar.

Person A pretends to be in love with Person B Why? Well, it could be an outright con game. Person A is part of a gang who intend to swindle Person B, and the fake romance is part of a set-up. Or, the gang are doing something behind B’s back, and A is assigned the job of distracting B with the fake romance. Or maybe there’s no gang at all, A is working solo, and pretending to be in love with B as a form of revenge, or (more often) to make someone else jealous, or simply to attract that third party’s attention.

The variations are many, but there’s one element that is almost always the same: in the course of the fake romance, Person A realizes that he (or she) has genuinely fallen in love with B. Soon afterward, B finds out that it was all a ruse, and is hurt and angry, and breaks off the engagement—or whatever. And then A has to prove that, no, really, it started as a sham, but now the love is real.

Sound familiar?
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 12, 2017 9:17 am

Brash young man achieves business success and dates all kinds of fashionable women. His plain-Jane secretary supports him ably -- she's got her hair cropped conservatively and keeps every paperclip in place. He doesn't notice until the last 5 minutes that she practically swoons when he's nearby -- and that she's more loyal than all those shallow society beauties. Smoooooch!
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 12, 2017 9:21 am

Dave Pitts wrote:Brash young man achieves business success and dates all kinds of fashionable women. His plain-Jane secretary supports him ably -- she's got her hair cropped conservatively and keeps every paperclip in place. He doesn't notice until the last 5 minutes that she practically swoons when he's nearby -- and that she's more loyal than all those shallow society beauties. Smoooooch!


Yes, but you forgot to mention her glasses! She wears them at first, but when she removes them he suddenly notices her: "Why Miss Johnson -- you're beautiful."
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostMon Aug 14, 2017 11:24 am

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:Another common premise in romantic comedies of the '30s: the old Pretending To Be in Love With Someone, and Then Actually Falling for Her (or Him). Lots of variations come into play with this one, but the basic pattern is familiar.

Person A pretends to be in love with Person B Why? Well, it could be an outright con game. Person A is part of a gang who intend to swindle Person B, and the fake romance is part of a set-up. Or, the gang are doing something behind B’s back, and A is assigned the job of distracting B with the fake romance. Or maybe there’s no gang at all, A is working solo, and pretending to be in love with B as a form of revenge, or (more often) to make someone else jealous, or simply to attract that third party’s attention.

The variations are many, but there’s one element that is almost always the same: in the course of the fake romance, Person A realizes that he (or she) has genuinely fallen in love with B. Soon afterward, B finds out that it was all a ruse, and is hurt and angry, and breaks off the engagement—or whatever. And then A has to prove that, no, really, it started as a sham, but now the love is real.

Sound familiar?


This one especially, and several others in this thread are still used quite frequently in the made-for-cable movies on the Hallmark Channel. My wife doesn't understand why I get bored with them 20 minutes in, as I can guess the rest of the story pretty easily.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostMon Aug 14, 2017 11:32 am

I'm not sure if this trend started in the 30's or 40's, but I'm not a fan of the random musical numbers that really don't add much to the story or plot. I know it's time for me to refill my popcorn when the Andrews Sisters slide into the picture.

Of course I tend to love the Laurel & Hardy interludes, but that's 100% personal bias for the boys.

Of course I now realize that this probably isn't a plot trope, so I may be veering off course. Whoops! :lol:
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostWed Aug 16, 2017 10:39 am

Daveismyhero wrote:I'm not sure if this trend started in the 30's or 40's, but I'm not a fan of the random musical numbers that really don't add much to the story or plot. I know it's time for me to refill my popcorn when the Andrews Sisters slide into the picture.


The trend may have started earlier, but it seemed to come to a head during WWII. "Hey everybody! Let's drop everything and sing about the virtues of rationing!" There's nary a Columbia musical that doesn't end with a big production number along those lines. Sometimes (for example Reveille With Beverly (1943) and Jam Session (1944) the storyline is little more than glue to hold the assorted musical numbers together, closer to what's today called a 'jukebox musical' than a fully realised film.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostWed Aug 16, 2017 10:50 am

Daveismyhero wrote:I'm not sure if this trend started in the 30's or 40's, but I'm not a fan of the random musical numbers that really don't add much to the story or plot. I know it's time for me to refill my popcorn when the Andrews Sisters slide into the picture.

Of course I tend to love the Laurel & Hardy interludes, but that's 100% personal bias for the boys.

Of course I now realize that this probably isn't a plot trope, so I may be veering off course. Whoops! :lol:


That's still shows up in the Bollywood movies I see.

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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostWed Aug 16, 2017 1:39 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
Dave Pitts wrote:Brash young man achieves business success and dates all kinds of fashionable women. His plain-Jane secretary supports him ably -- she's got her hair cropped conservatively and keeps every paperclip in place. He doesn't notice until the last 5 minutes that she practically swoons when he's nearby -- and that she's more loyal than all those shallow society beauties. Smoooooch!


Yes, but you forgot to mention her glasses! She wears them at first, but when she removes them he suddenly notices her: "Why Miss Johnson -- you're beautiful."


That always worried me. Did they have contacts then? Was Miss Johnson supposed to function properly (as if by magic) without her glasses? or was the possibility of slamming into pillars, tripping over truck-sized objects, and falling off cliffs a fair trade for being noticed by the brash young man?
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 17, 2017 2:03 am

Oddly enough the history of glass contact lenses goes back a long way but the plastic lens only dates from 1939 and the soft contact lens from 1971, well into the wide-screen era.

No doubt she only wore glasses
A : To look more intelligent and find a job.
B: To ward off passes or seem less threatening to the boss wife.
C: To read back her own shorthand.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 17, 2017 6:43 am

Daveismyhero wrote:I'm not sure if this trend started in the 30's or 40's, but I'm not a fan of the random musical numbers that really don't add much to the story or plot. I know it's time for me to refill my popcorn when the Andrews Sisters slide into the picture.

Of course I tend to love the Laurel & Hardy interludes, but that's 100% personal bias for the boys.

Of course I now realize that this probably isn't a plot trope, so I may be veering off course. Whoops! :lol:




I live for random music numbers. :D
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostThu Aug 17, 2017 11:03 am

barry byrne wrote:Oddly enough the history of glass contact lenses goes back a long way but the plastic lens only dates from 1939 and the soft contact lens from 1971, well into the wide-screen era.

No doubt she only wore glasses
A : To look more intelligent and find a job.
B: To ward off passes or seem less threatening to the boss wife.
C: To read back her own shorthand.


Excellent reasons, thank you. I had some vague idea that she might have been trying to correct poor vision, clearly I have not sufficiently absorbed the lessons of our cinematic history.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostFri Aug 18, 2017 3:53 pm

The perennial trope of the girl and the hero running from the bad guys . . . but, of course, she must trip and fall, and he must pick her up and carry her in his arms the rest of the way.

The evil twin sister of this trope: the female of any age, who swoons and faints at the slightest plot provocation.

Or for that matter, the dear girl who has an evil twin sister.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 19, 2017 1:37 am

Hero runs out of ammunition and always throws the gun away in a hissy fit.

(Perhaps it might be useful later, when ammunition is available? Neither do they ever recycle the weapons or ammo of the enemy, should that be available.)

Girl always stands and watches fight and on the odd time they intervene, are ineffective.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 19, 2017 9:23 am

barry byrne wrote:Girl always stands and watches fight and on the odd time they intervene, are ineffective.


Except in High Noon.

P.S. It just occurred to me, I'm jumping out of the '30s here. (Sorry, forgot the subject heading!) Maybe by the time that film was made, they decided to subvert the cliche.
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSat Aug 19, 2017 3:31 pm

Possibly the most overused trope of the 1930s and maybe of All Time: the hero or antihero, doesn't matter as long as he is the top-billed star of the movie, engages in a ferocious gun battle, but then he dares to leap out in the open and face an endless spray of bullets at close range. If it's a gangster picture, that includes machine guns fired point blank from twenty feet away. Everyone around him is hit and drops, but not a single bullet ever strikes him!
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSun Aug 20, 2017 1:48 am

2 Reel I think you may well have identified the strangest of film features, the miraculous avoidance of streams of gunfire.

Particularly odd in the context of the well known experience of trench warfare in WWI, which scriptwriters and actors may well have experienced in person.

Of course, the pal is never so lucky and the shady lady always jumps in front of the bullet, nice girl that she really is
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Re: Overused plot tropes in the 30's

PostSun Aug 20, 2017 4:05 am

wingate wrote:20thFox used the same plot for their musicals.Boy gets girl,looses girl to best friend,gets girl back when she realises her silly mistake.The poor sucker is often Ralph Bellamy.He's never going to get Betty Grable or Alice Faye.


Bellamy made a better villain anyhow- there was something cold in those eyes
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