No matter what entertainment medium you favor, you can find family acting dynasties. The Fonda family is one which is well known to those who enjoy Hollywood films. Henry Fonda is the patriarch of this family of actors which includes his son Peter Fonda and grandchildren, Bridget Fonda as well as Troy Garrity. But it is Jane Fonda who I would like to focus on today.
Regardless what you think of her politics, Jane has made a name for herself outside the shadow of her father. With a career now spanning over five decades, fifty film credits, seven Oscar nominations (with two wins) she remains an active participant in the film community today.
Jane is also known for her many exercise videos, with her first one, Jane Fonda’s Workout becoming the highest-selling VHS ever. She has been married to a director (Roger Vadim), an activist (Tom Hayden) and a billionaire businessman (Ted Turner) and has two children.
While I’ve enjoyed some of her films from the past decade, my favorites are those from her first decade as an actress. This was the time when she was still finding her footing in the industry, preferably without her father’s help. Jane’s characters of this era still displayed a naive, sweetness which I find endearing. Plus, I’ve always been a fan of the Sixties rom-coms and light dramas. Among my favorite of films in this genre is Sunday in New York.
In it, Jan plays 22 year old virgin Eileen Tyler whose boyfriend has dumped her because she chooses to remain chaste. Eileen escapes to New York City to stay with her brother Adam, who is a skirt-chasing pilot. Adam is not happy that his baby sister is considering compromising her morals, so he lies to hide his own looser lifestyle.
Eileen has a meet cute with sports writer Mike Mitchell on a city bus. Initially, Mike thinks Eileen is on the make, but soon learns she is a throwback to a previous generation. The two spend a Sunday getting to know each other. A rainstorm leaves them soaked and cooling their heels in Adam’s apartment.
Eileen’s innocent attempts to seduce Mike leave them both angry and debating the hypocrisy of modern standards. Just as they reach a grudging acceptance of the other’s opinions, Eileen’s ex-boyfriend Russ bursts into the apartment to surprise her with a proposal. The surprise is on all three of them however, because Eileen and Mike are both in bathrobes and Russ mistakes Mike for Eileen’s brother. Another surprise arrives with Adam’s arrival back at the apartment. Eileen and Mike scramble to keep the situation from getting out of hand and to ensure the new engagement is not ruined. The path of true love never did run smooth nor does the conclusion of Sunday in New York. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun getting there.
Jane Fonda is at her most adorable in Sunday in New York. She perfectly portrays the young, innocent Eileen grappling with the changing mores of her generation. Of course, the sweet, classic costumes designed by Orry-Kelly only enhance her character’s charm. There is so much to appreciate about Eileen. She is honest both with herself and others in considering both sides of the pre-marital sex equation. She sets boundaries, but also isn’t afraid to give the men in her life a second chance when they mess up. When Mike declares that it is she who is obssessed with the topic of sex, Eileen accepts his assertion, and admits to it after realizing he is right.
Of course, I’m also partial to Rod Taylor as Mike Mitchell. In fact, this is the film which introduced me to Taylor and started my movie crush on him. Poor Mike. Eileen ties him up in knots, but he still manages to treat her with respect. But he also doesn’t treat her like fragile glass either. And he is willing to help Eileen save her engagement to Russ, even though he is falling for her.
I also love Cliff Robertson as Eileen’s playboy brother Adam, despite his complete hypocrisy. Here is a man who is sleeping with his stewardess girlfriend but lies about it to protect his sister’s innocence. Then he goes all big brother on Mike when he finds him in a compromising situation with Eileen. I do enjoy his side story line with this girlfriend. The two keep trying to find a place and time to spend together, but keep getting separated.
One of the things I really appreciate about Sixties romantic comedies is the way they approach the topic of sex. Just as this film suggests, the opinions and beliefs about pre-marital sex were changing. However, rom-coms explored this change through comedy, which allowed them to enter that debate without becoming offensive or controversial, just as Sunday in New York does.
Though the discussions Eileen has with Adam and Mike on the topic of sex are humorous, that is not the only reason I continually come back to this film. The truth is, it is just a plain joy to watch. I adore the cinematic version of New York in the Sixties. It’s a color-splashed, idealized world. The romance is delightful. Fonda, Taylor and Robertson are at their most charming. And that is all I need to keep me entertained.
Many thanks to Michael of Sat in Your Lap for inviting me to participate in the Fondathon! I encourage you to visit his site to read other entries on the Fonda family. (All screenshots are my own.)