“You Belong to Me” (1941) starring Barbara Stanwyck & Henry Fonda

A JOYOUS REUNION OF THE STARS OF “THE LADY EVE” -Tag line on original movie poster

A young general practitioner, Dr. Helen Hunt (Barbara Stanwyck), meets a millionaire/playboy, Peter Kirk (Henry Fonda) when he crashes at her feet during her vacay at a California ski resort. He insists ONLY she can treat his (minor) injuries; it’s obvious he has a crush on her. After knowing each other for a few days, Peter suddenly proposes marriage- Helen accepts! They marry and settle in his (huge) estate somewhere in LA. On their wedding night, Helen is called away on a medical emergency. When she returns, Peter has fallen asleep. Soon, Peter becomes jealous of her career, getting into physical altercations w/ two male patients (yikes)!

Peter: Are there many lady doctors?

Helen: A few.

Peter: As beautiful as you?

Helen: No doubt.

Peter: The time I’ve wasted being well.

There are (serious) underlying themes in this movie. Remember that this was a time (here in the US) when women (who could afford it) quit their jobs immediately after they got married. Professional women (incl. doctors) made up a small percentage of the workplace. Fonda and Stanwyck make a believable couple, as they have (obvious) romantic chemistry. Stanwyck had great comic timing; Fonda was good at using his physicality for humor. There are some close-up shots of both actors that are gorgeous. Peter is no doubt “problematic” (as the young’uns say today); he goes from sweet/chill to irrational/jealous! As one astute viewer commented: “The Stanwyck character would’ve dumped this guy in 24 hrs in real life.”

The script has some snappy dialogue, as well as a few fine scenes for the supportive players. Billings (Edgar Buchanan) is the grumpy gardener who offers down-to-earth advice to Peter. Moody (Melville Cooper) is the stuffy butler full of sly comments for the entire household. Ella (Maude Eburne) is the understanding nurse/secretary to Helen. I learned that a young Lloyd Bridges (uncredited) plays one of the ski patrol (early in the film).

[1] …feminists would probably be aghast at it.

In fact, Barbara Stanwyck herself didn’t like it at all. She liked working with Henry Fonda right enough, but thought this film was ridiculous. As well she should have.

[2] The first portion at the ski lodge and the next did NOT fit well together, nor did the final “Horatio Alger” inspired section…

[3] In a year where Stanwyck was really busy, three out of four films have become classics. One of them had to be a disappointment, and this is it, albeit a minor one. She was a sexy gold-digger (opposite Fonda) in “The Lady Eve,” a sequin-wearing gangster’s moll nightclub entertainer in “Ball of Fire”, and a hard-as-nails reporter in “Meet John Doe.” Those films all have outstanding screenplays, something this one lacks. The comedy moments are infrequent…

-Excerpts from IMDb comments

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