Joan and Jimmy say... You Gotta Stay Happy (1948)

When Joan Fontaine passed away in 2013, I felt heartbroken. I've adored Joan ever since I first saw her in Rebecca, the film that sealed my love for Hitchcock. She projected such vulnerability and insecurity, yet she was strong and quietly fierce. Underneath her femininity and grace, there was a steely backbone. If you think that Joan was delicate, you've clearly misread her. I was surprised at how hard her death hit me, but I didn't go light candles and wear black for a week -- instead, I watched the only DVD of hers that I had: You Gotta Stay Happy.

The irony of that title isn't lost on me. The hilarity and the sweetness of the movie weren't lost, either. It instantly made me feel better and it felt like a fitting way to say goodbye to Joan. Watching her in a romantic comedy with Jimmy Stewart was the best thing I could have done. Vastly underrated and wholly charming, You Gotta Stay Happy is sadly an obscure title. Hopefully after reading this, you'll realize how crazy that is. Directed by H.C. Potter and based on a Saturday Evening Post serial by Robert Carson, the film is about an indecisive heiress (Joan) and the no-nonsense pilot (Jimmy) that she falls for. I would describe it as Screwball Lite -- not quite madcap enough to be a true screwball comedy, but still pretty fun.

Dee Dee Dillwood has been engaged many times, but when it comes to actually walking down the aisle, she can't bring herself to do it. Her uncle (Roland Young) and her psychiatrist think the only way she'll get over her hesitancy is by finally following through with her engagement to her latest beau, Henry (Willard Parker). They believe that Dee Dee's reasoning for stopping the wedding -- the annoying way Henry incessantly clears his throat -- is ridiculous, so she reluctantly says "I do"... and immediately regrets it.

The newlyweds go to a hotel for their wedding night before leaving for their honeymoon the next morning, which panics Dee Dee. She tries to stall any way she can, first by suggesting they go for a walk before heading to their room. As she stands in the lobby's revolving door arguing with Henry, they hear a persistent knocking. The camera pans over as they see pilot Marvin Payne stuck in the doorway and motioning that he'd like to come in. Marvin can't escape Henry and Dee Dee, though. With their rooms beside each other, his sleep is interrupted when he hears them shouting through the wall. Dee Dee has told Henry that they must get an annulment and let's just say the guy doesn't handle it well.

Frightened, she runs into Marvin's room. Thinking she is a poor small town girl who got caught up with a married heel, he agrees to let her borrow his bed for the night while he sleeps on the couch. Things really hit a snag, though, in the morning. Having taken a very strong sleeping pill, Dee Dee is completely unconscious. With the help of his co-pilot, Bullets (Eddie Albert!), Marvin tries to get her to wake up. They're finally forced to take Dee Dee with them, putting some of Marvin's clothes over her pajamas so she doesn't look weird walking out of the hotel. (In today's films, this wouldn't even be an issue, but it's funny that back then, you were expected to look a certain way in public, a way that didn't include what you
wore for bed. Another silly occurrence is that Marvin has to keep wrapping a blanket around him so Dee Dee doesn't see his PJ's.)

At the air field, Dee Dee convinces Marvin to take her on his trip to California, dropping her off when they stop in Chicago. In need of the extra cash, Marvin and Bullets also allow three other passengers onto their cargo plane: sickening newlyweds who use baby talk and can't keep their hands off each other, and a fidgety little man who unbeknownst to them just embezzled thousands thanks to the cajoling of his secretary. Did I mention there's a cigar-smoking chimpanzee on board, too?

There are a lot of things I love about this movie. Firstly, there are the adorable opening credits, which begin with an animated Fontaine and Stewart in an airplane before seguing into your typical listing of the cast and crew. I think the rendering of Joan is particularly spot-on here. It's even got her signature arched eyebrow!

Another thing I enjoy is the supporting cast. Eddie Albert is perfect as Jimmy's carefree co-pilot and friend. Throughout the film, he begs Marvin to live a little; the film's title is literally what he advises to Marvin. Other players include Porter Hall as the nervous embezzler, Roland Young as Dee Dee's uncle, and Percy Kilbride as the patriarch of a large family who helps the group when they have to land in his Oklahoma field during an intense thunderstorm. Marcy McGuire and Arthur Walsh are the ridiculously happy newlyweds with heavy Southern accents who volley between being irritating and being funny. The best joke is when Kilbride hears them speak for the first time. "Foreigners?" he asks. "No, just
married," Marvin replies.                                          

It is the two leads, though, who make me smile the most. Jimmy Stewart could not be better cast. Not only is Marvin a pilot, he is also a WWII veteran. After the war, he and his fellow Air Force buddies started Payne Airlines, a small airline that hulls cargo. As a brigadier general himself, Jimmy was well-suited to this role. The leather jacket he wears in the film was actually the one he wore while serving!

Unlike Dee Dee, Marvin always knows what he wants. He has decided he can't marry until 1954, which is when he has calculated that he will have enough money to support a family. For right now,
his sights are set on buying a four engine plane, something that would increase both the cargo loads and the income. What he doesn't realize is that Dee Dee, the world's richest heiress, could help him with that.

Jimmy and Joan is not a pairing you would think would work, but I gotta admit, they have really wonderful chemistry. All of their scenes together are just delectable. One of the sweetest parts is when Marvin asks how she is during their flight. She admits that while the rest of her is warm due to his clothes, her high-heeled feet are pretty cold. He brings out these huge, fleece-lined boots for
her to borrow and puts them on her feet.

When they arrive in Chicago, Dee Dee hesitantly says goodbye and starts to walk away. Looking at this tiny woman in her oversized clothes and boots, Marvin's resolve softens and he allows her to stay for the rest of the trip. Later, when they kiss for the first time, he admits that it was that moment that he knew he wanted to be with her. Swoon.

During the film, you'll see Joan wearing a lot of loose clothing. At the time, she was pregnant with her first (and only biological) child, so Dee Dee wearing Marvin's big clothes was perfect for hiding it. The father of the baby, by the way, was the film's producer and Joan's then-husband, William Dozier. They would separate the next year, ending in a divorce in 1951 after five years of marriage.

Dee Dee is a great character for Joan, one that differs from the silently suffering women she usually played (and excelled at). She gets to be warm and funny -- she evens forms a friendship with the chimpanzee! It's really enjoyable seeing Joan kind of let her hair down and sparkle in a romantic comedy. With Jimmy by her side and such a stellar cast and script behind her, You Gotta Stay Happy is one of my favorite films of hers. You gotta see it.


It's my pleasure to say that this is my entry to the lovely Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Crystal and Virginie. Do yourself a favor and check out the incredible roster here. Happy 100th, Joan!


  1. I loved your review Michaela! It was fun and agreable to read! I was happy to finally see this film not a too long time ago. Joan Fontaine and my favourite actor in the same film? What more do you need?! And I also love Eddie Albert in it!! I also was hearthbroken when Joan died, even if I had only seen 2 of her movies at the time. Proof that we don't need a lot to be convinced that she is a marvellous actress. Thanks so much for your participation to the blogathon!

    1. Thanks, Virginie! Joan was so spectacular, wasn't she? She and Jimmy were such a good duo.

  2. You're right. I gotta see this. I can't believe there's another Jimmy Stewart airplane movie out there. Plus, the chance to see Joan utilize her sense of humour on screen is tantalizing.

    1. It's such an adorable movie. I think you'll enjoy it. I find it interesting to see Jimmy play a pilot since he was such a good one during the war, something he rarely talked about. I especially like the fact that he wore his own jacket for this film. It adds a little something special.

  3. I have never heard about this movie, but now I really, really want to watch it! The drawings in the opening credits are so cute - and Joan's caricature is perfect!
    Thanks for the kind comment and for introducing this movie to me!

    1. My pleasure! Those caricatures are great. I think the artist did a really good job of correctly capturing Joan and Jimmy.


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