Fonda Fonda at 80
A powerful presence on movie and television screens for 58 years, Jane Fonda, 80 years old today, says she’s got a renewed energy to move forward in her professional work, family life, charitable causes and political activism. Her continuing work in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie has earned her (as well as partner-in-laughs Lily Tomlin) a Screen Actors Guild Best Actress in a Comedy Series nomination, and she’ll be part of a stellar quartet of ladies – Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen – in the 2018 theatrical feature Book Club. Her life’s journey has occasioned its share of triumphs, controversies and heartbreaks but, borrowing the title of her current gig, she’s borne all with resilient grace and resonant frankness. Covering a marvelous 25-year hunk of her career are five Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray titles, popular hits as well as undervalued ventures that have gained some luster with the passing years, each showing a distinctive side of this multifaceted talent. More than the formulaic romantic comedy parts that preceded it, the title role as the prim frontier girl-turned-outlaw gang leader Cat Ballou (1965, directed by Elliot Silverstein) showed she could horse around as well as the men (including rambunctious Oscar® winner Lee Marvin) – and score a career-enhancing box-office bonanza to boot. In the lustrous ensemble of The Chase (1966, directed by Arthur Penn), she “at last, showed a real maturity” (David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film) as the conflicted, unfaithful wife of a fugitive convict (Robert Redford) whose return to a turbulent Texas town ratchets up tensions for the local lawman (Marlon Brando). Engaged to play budding writer Lillian Hellman in the screen version of Hellman’s story of political awakening and abiding friendship, Julia (1977), she urged director Fred Zinnemann to cast her own pal Vanessa Redgrave in the title role; Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in Saturday Review would write of the finished work: “What an accomplished pair these two are! They play off each other wonderfully, Redgrave with his exquisite and steely passion, Fonda with her tremulous self-doubt and involuntary commitment. Each performance is a triumph of professional skill and personal spirit.” (Fonda’s revealing Audio Commentary conversation with Nick Redman attests to this meeting of minds and hearts.) The next year, she turned back to the Western landscape as a defiant Montana rancher taking on a corrupt land baron (Jason Robards) with the help of a World War II veteran (James Caan) in Klute director Alan J. Pakula’s Comes a Horseman (1978), in which, Time’s Frank Rich judged, she delivers “a performance superior to her more saintly appearances in Julia and Coming Home. Her face as weatherbeaten as her dad’s in The Grapes of Wrath, this beautiful woman manages to capture the essence of frontier toughness.” In director Martin Ritt’s final movie Stanley & Iris (1990, co-scripted by Ritt’s long-time collaborators Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.), she plays a tentative and touching blue-collar romantic duet with Robert De Niro in a story about everyday hardship not holding back dreams of self-empowerment. To an admiring Vincent Canby of The New York Times: “Miss Fonda's increasingly rich resources as an actress are evident in abundance here. They even overcome one's awareness that just beneath Iris's frumpy clothes, there is a firm, perfectly molded body that has become a multimillion-dollar industry. Her Iris is believable without being a type, or a census statistic. She's a singular woman of guts, common sense and freely acknowledged passion.” In saluting the time-tested, now-octogenarian star of Cat Ballou, The Chase, Comes a Horseman, Julia and Stanley & Iris on TT discs, Canby’s prose is on the nose.