Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest
Jean: You have a right to have an ideal. I guess we all have one.
Charles: What does yours look like?
Jean: He’s a little short guy with lots of money.
Charles: Why short?
Jean: What does it matter if he’s rich? It’s so he’ll look up to me, so I’ll be his ideal.
After spending a year on the Amazon, Charles (Fonda) is returning to the U.S. on board a cruise ship. Being rich, Charles is targeted by a father-daughter con artist team, Harry (Coburn) and Jean (Stanwyck), while on board. Charles falls in love with Jean, and to her surprise, Jean falls in love with Charles. Things get even more complicated when Charles discovers just who Harry and Jean really are.
I think I’ll just jump right into my praise of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in this movie. She’s just a big ball of energy, comedy, and even sexiness. Okay, especially that last one, as the most memorable scene in the movie is her driving Henry Fonda crazy in her cabin on the ship. Though, equally memorable for me is an earlier scene where Jean provides a play-by-play of the action going on behind her (viewed via her mirror) as all the women in the dining room vie for Charles’ attention.
It’s interesting to look at the differences between lead female characters from 30s and 40s romantic comedies and modern ones. Sure, the women were sometimes “put in their place” back then, but at the same time, the roles seemed to have more energy, humor, and even intelligence. Barbara Stanwyck runs this movie. She’s in control of every scene, not just her the actress, but her character, Jean, as well. Henry Fonda is totally at her mercy. You sense that Charles needs Jean more than she needs him. These days, while the female lead will usually have a good, high paying job, she’s still an idiot in other areas of her life, stumbling around until the perfect man comes along. Seems odd that female characters in romantic comedies from the 30s and 40s would be more respectable than they are now, but…well, just look at the recent romantic comedies I’ve watched. The Ugly Truth? The Proposal? Love Happens? Yeah, no.
Back to this movie, though. Truth be told, there are some sections that were a bit on the slow side. Once they get off the boat, it loses a little steam. There is another great scene near the end on a train, but the movie never quite regains the momentum it had at the beginning.
It’s not quite up there with my favorite classic movies, but it’s still worth seeing for the scenes between Stanwyck and Fonda alone.
Never trust anyone who says they’re not good at cards.
10 – 2.4 for some slow sections and silly peripheral characters = 7.6