YOU BELONG TO ME ( 1941 ) SCREWBALL COMEDY MONTH

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Never before in the history of cinema has there been a star like Barbara Stanwyck who displayed such versatility in her range as an actress and could easily adjust to any role imaginable.

Barbara Stanwyck was different to any other star. She possessed that unique screen quality and inhabited many facets of nature that made it easy for her to acclimatize herself in every genre of film that she explored. With her skillful flexibility, Stanwyck could metamorphose herself from a breezy maniacal heroin in a Screwball Comedy to a malicious villain in a Film Noir production.

While a lot of her contemporaries tried their hardest to elude the Screwball Comedy field, Barbara Stanwyck mastered the art of satirical farces and appeared in notable staples such as, The Lady Eve and Ball Of Fire, two eminent films that will forever be etched as some of the most memorable Screwball Comedies ever made.

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In addition to The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe and Ball Of Fire, which were all made in 1941, Barbara Stanwyck starred in another film that year titled, You Belong To Me, an underrated Screwball Comedy that received positive reviews on it’s release but has since been over shadowed by Stanwyck’s more creditable efforts in comedy.

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You Belong To Me marks the third and final pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. After the victorious success of Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve, audiences couldn’t get enough of the famed comedy duo and was yearning for a replay of their light cheerful satirical renditions, so when Columbia announced the proposed film, You Belong To Me for the two stars, it automatically warranted a gratifying response.

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By the late 1930’s, Henry Fonda’s fame had reached a high pinnacle. With his myriad of triumphant film acquisitions, director, John Ford recruited him to portray the role of Tom Joad in the film version of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes Of Wrath. Fonda seen this as a reputable opportunity and immediately jumped at the chance, though Darryl Zanuck who preferred Tyrone Power was reluctant about hiring Fonda and insisted that he sign a seven year contract with Twentieth Century Fox.

The Grapes Of Wrath conquered all box office records on it’s release, and garnered Henry Fonda an Academy Award nomination. However his success didn’t pave the way for any future outstanding productions with Fox. Instead he was mainly being cast in mediocre roles that did nothing to augment his exalted reputation.

To elude his current grim outlook at Fox, Fonda began to accept more loan out films. These productions enhanced his reputation and allowed him the chance to return to his comedic roots when he was selected to play opposite Barbara Stanwyck for the second time in The Lady Eve, an enduring classic by Preston Sturges which was followed by, You Belong To Me.

While their third outing was nowhere near as successful as their previous collaborations, it did requisite positive encomium on it’s initial release, and Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda were both noted for their performances.

You Belong To Me was directed by Wesley Ruggles, and based on Dalton Trumbo’s story with the screenplay by Claude Binyon. Apart from the solid performances from the two main leads, the film features a stellar supporting cast which include, Edgar Buchanan and Ruth Donnelly.

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The film revolves around the story of Helen Hunt ( Barbara Stanwyck ) a young doctor who is on vacation at a California ski resort. Under rather peculiar circumstances she meets and falls in love with Peter Kirk ( Henry Fonda ) a millionaire playboy who lives a life of opulence. Peter is immediately smitten with Helen and incognizant about Helen’s duties as a doctor he proposes marriage to her.

As soon as the couple elope, Peter discovers that married life may be a big mistake. Helen is too engaged in the medical profession and pays little attention to Peter, and Peter who is jealous about his wife consulting with male patients becomes a hypochondriac.

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You Belong To Me is one of those forgotten films that are rarely talked about today. Compared to Stanwyck and Fonda’s previous vehicles, it has often been deemed a faulty mess by audiences. However the film isn’t entirely erroneous. These scathing reports have been made as the years progressed. On it’s initial release, You Belong To Me acquired positive reviews. Bosley Crowther from ‘The New York Times’ stated that ” These tensile marital comedies, strung out on a very thin line, have a way of snapping in the middle unless written and acted to the hilt. This one is fortunate in having a smart script as foundation – bright and easy dialogue and cute situations. It is directed by Wesley Ruggles in a brisk and amiable style, and it is well supported by a cast including Fritz Feld, Edgar Buchanan and Melville Cooper. But the best thing about it is its principals, Mr. Fonda and Miss Stanwyck. He, with his loose-jointed blunderings and charming diffidence, and she with her forthright manner and ability to make a man forget are a right team for this sort of dalliance. You Belong To Me is a bit of well-turned fun.”

Due to the films harsh attacks in later years, I first entered into my first viewing with bleak expectations, only to have my heart melted at the movies end. I found myself surprised by all the distasteful comments being made against the film by other Barbara Stanwyck enthusiasts who tend to favour The Lady Eve and The Mad Miss Manton over their final pairing in You Belong To Me. 

While The Lady Eve is a more distinguished production, You Belong To Me still holds laudable values. In addition to the magnificent cast of assembled players, the film is abounded by a rather fun and cheesy script and astute dialogue.

Henry Fonda portrays an unlikeable millionaire playboy who becomes infatuated in his beautiful young doctor, Helen Hunt, played by Barbara Stanwyck. Doctor Hunt is in the prime of her career and is hesitant about doing anything that might jeopardize her profession in the medical practice, but once she marries Peter Kirk, a trail of catastrophic destruction ensues.

From the moment Peter brings Helen home to his large commodious mansion adorned with lush and palatial gardens, he automatically possesses jealousy over Helen seeing male patients, and starts to suspect that his wife might be doing more than consulting with these men.

On the other hand, Doctor Hunt tries her utmost hardest to straighten Henry out of his sociopath, paranoid schizophrenic ways, and even goes as far as suggesting that he show is worth by working for a living, but Henry at first dismisses these ideas and lays his prime focus on retaining his jealousy over who his wife is consulting with at her medical practice.

All in all, You Belong To Me is a commendable film that showcases the talents of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. It’s a bit predictable at times, but definitely recommended for the two leads and the laughs. A great film to snuggle up to on a cold Winters day.

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Quotes:

Peter Kirk: “Are there many lady doctors?”

Helen Hunt: “A few.”

Peter Kirk: “As beautiful as you?”

Helen Hunt: “No doubt.”

Peter Kirk: “The time I’ve wasted being well.”

Peter Kirk: “This is a free country isn’t it? Why should a few million dollars keep me from having the same opportunities as anyone else?”

Marshall: “What you said sounds right… but it must be wrong.”

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Cast:

Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Henry Fonda: Born Henry Jaynes Fonda on May 16th, 1905 in Grand Island, Nebraska. Died: August 12th, 1982 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 77. Cause of death: Heart disease.

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