OH WHERE TO BEGIN. The IMDB synopsis pretty much says it all: on the train ride home from schoolteacher school (?), Innocent Young Jane accidentally helps some train robbers escape, and then they kind of follow her home to her father's farm, where she's returned to help him in his old age. It's worse than she realizes, when she finds out via his handsome Native American ranch hand that he's essentially being bullied of his land by a Super Creepy Metal-Nosed Bad Guy Cowboy, who works for The Big Rich City Bad Guy. The two train-robbers (who now live with them?) and Jackson (the Native American) agree to help Jane defend the farm, but they're going to need a proper sharp-shooter... Jane's apparently an avid dime-store novel reader, and her latest page-turner was about an infamous do-gooder named Kid Sheleen - who Jane sends a letter and $50 to come help defend the farm. Unfortunately, Kid Sheleen (played by AN OSCAR WINNING LEE MARVIN??? LOL) is now an aged drunk, and Metal-Nose kills Jane's daddy before she can do anything about it.
What started out as a Defend The Farm western has now escalated into a Avenge My Father's Death western, and the Jane Gang sets off for justice. PLOT TWIST, Metal-Nose is actually KID SHELEEN'S TWIN BROTHER (BOTH played by Tom Waits, lol) whom he heroically kills (after a long and silly montage about getting sober), Jane kills the Big City Bad Guy & gets sentenced to hang (for both crimes?), but the whole gang is there just in the nick of time to save her and run off into the sunset. Yeehaw!
This movie is fun, no doubt about it, but it is impossible for me NOT to view everything through post-#MeToo-colored glasses, and there are definitely some... "problematic details."
For starters, one of the bandits who joins Jane's Gang to avenge her father's death is a self-proclaimed "Sex Maniac" who routinely sneaks up on Jane to... try and bone her?? I mean it's all done so playfully it's hardly insidious, and as we discussed in Barbarella there is something inherently strong and capable about Jane Fonda that makes you never truly worried for her... All the same, it's not self-aware enough to be ironic, which by default makes it at the very least the obvious winner of the Janesploitation Award.
Essentially the same clip.
Regardless, Jackson gets a couple of the better lines in the film: correcting Jane's character (a schoolteacher!) on the correct usage of "who" and "whom," and defending his right to partake in a fistfight because "this is America, and I shall be treated equally without regard to my race, color, or creed." His timing was on-point, they all acknowledge his heritage but never make it the butt of the joke, and the few times that someone tries to start shit with him for being NA, the whole gang is on his side. Well done, gang.
I don't know if we have fully discovered a new Type of Jane here (I really need a better name for those... Totems? Houses? Essence Book? Top 4? Idk, I'll work on it), but it was an interesting combination of Scrappy without being Sexy. I mean, she's sexy without even trying, but her sexuality isn't really capitalized on (until the very end, when she seduces the Big Rich Bad Guy). But up until now, we've seen her be Scrappy & Slutty or Innocent & Kind Of Useless, but never Scrappy & Innocent, which was an endearingly wholesome and welcome reprieve. Not necessarily a new flavor, but a new combination for sure.
But before I can go any further, I must interrupt myself with the real Oscar Winner of this film: Nat King Fucking Cole, who literally STOLE MY WHOLE DAMN HEART with his unbearably delightful narrating musical interludes. I literally couldn't pick which one to use as an example BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL SO UNBEARABLY DELIGHTFUL so here's my Top 3:
Now for the movie...
WOW. Imagine if you took all the racism from To Kill A Mockingbird, the sexual repression from Footloose, the teen angst from West Side Story, and all the alcohol from your last family gathering... then mix in a healthy dose of peak hunkiness but totally incomprehensible Marlon Brando, and you literally have The Chase.
Like pretty much the movie could've ended there. Listen to Grandma, kid.
In an amusing type-casting switch, this film stars Marlon Brando as the straight-laced, do-gooder town Sheriff and Robert Redford as the rascally, blue-collar jailbird. We start off with Robert Buttchin escaping from prison, but his prison-break buddy is like WAY more hardcore than he is and KILLS a guy to get his car. Now Buttchin is on the lam not only for jailbreak, but also for the suspected murder of some rando.
Meanwhile, the small town that Buttchin is from (oh yeah, and his character's name is BUBBER but everyone has a Southern drawl so it's basically just BUBBA and wow does that ever make a guy sound un-scary) is losing their goddamn shit because TV hasn't been invented yet so Bubba Buttchin's escape is the most interesting thing going on, and everyone's bored, sweaty, and horny.
"Shoot a man for sleeping with another man's wife? That's silly. Half the town would be wiped out."
Tbh the Oscar goes to Martha Hyer, who plays my favorite drunk bitch EVER
Best I can tell, Bubba Buttchin, Jane Fonda, and this rich little trust fund fuck boi named Jake used to all be BFFs. Jane and Jake always kinda had a thing, but she was from the wrong side of the tracks, so she shacked up young with someone who "got" her - Bubba. But then Bubba went off to jail - FOR A CRIME HE DID NOT COMMIT, GASP - and it was a little too easy to slide into Jake's bed while she was waiting for him. But now Bubba's out, and the whole town has a boner for some Drunken Vigilante Justice, and it is Not Going To End Well.
While the town is literally drinking themselves into a feeding frenzy, Jane & Jake go on a wild goose chase looking for Bubba, uncomfortably avoiding the fact that they're two secret lovers looking for her escaped-inmate husband.
There's an interesting amalgamation of Jane Fonda-isms going on here: I definitely see some of the immature spunkiness from Walk on the Wild Side, but her character is literally written to be stoic and long-suffering, so she is a little less impetuous... a little. Instead of monologuing (that's all left to the men, and My Favorite Drunk Bitch), she listens, she absorbs, and then she retaliates in random acts of hysterical violence.
The Janesploitation Award goes to when Jake & Jane are meeting up at the motel to bone, and in the middle of monologuing about how hard it is to be rich and white, Jake literally pulls the "you're not like other girls, are you?" move. And what makes Jane so different? She's quiet. Which is apparently sexy. That is, until she starts throwing things. But she also only weighs about 8lbs 3oz in this movie so even her violence is precious... not because she's ridiculous (*cough* Drunk Bitch *cough*) but because it's unnecessary: she already has the attention of the room, she already has Jake eating out of her weirdly long-fingered palm.
Jane is High Fucking Status, no question about it. Part of it is what we already know about her as a person: she's Henry America Fonda's daughter, she's rich, she's white, she's thin, she's beautiful. I know I'm repeating myself here, but I just can't think of a better way to put it... despite all that, Jane's got teeth. It's like chutzpah, but it's a little smarter, a little sharper. She's got intellect, and not just the kind you get from having rich parents buy you an education.
I can't help but compare some of these analyses to my work on Meryl Madness, another dame with High Fucking Status... there were some roles where I just didn't believe Meryl as a poor, uneducated, or vulnerable character, because I know "Real" Meryl to be so much stronger than that. When she needed to go blue-collar, it only worked if her character had some kind of massive inner strength (i.e. August: Osage County).
I think there's something similar to be said for Jane here. Despite her wealthy upbringing, I do actually believe her in these scrappy, blue-collar roles... because I think deep down, Jane never really felt like she was "good enough" to be a Fonda.
I'm going to totally contradict myself now. To me, "High Status" means you have something to say, and you believe that the people in the room are going to 1) listen to you, and 2) believe you. For "Low Status," it doesn't matter if you have something to say or not, because 1) you don't believe people will listen to you, and 2) you don't believe they will believe you.
This clip doesn't have anything to do with what I'm talking about right now, I just really feel this. Martha Hyer, you're an American Treasure.
Jane's a weird combination of both, and it's actually something I struggled to distinguish in myself back in ~~~~ ACTING SCHOOL ~~~~ because I knew I had that certain Power and Charisma as an actor (and person), but I could never really see myself playing those Big Powerful Charismatic roles.
I think it's because there's a third category here: Jane (and me!) have something to say, and WE believe in it, but we just don't always believe that everyone in the room is going to believe us.
Does that make sense??
It's not so much doubting herself - she believes in herself - it's doubting that the rest of the world takes her seriously. That's why Jane can play a simple schoolteacher who's innocent enough not to be threatened by a rapist (because she believes in the good of all mankind), but also why she has enough chutzpah/teeth to rally a Sex Maniac, a Native American, a Drunk, and an Uncle to follow her into the sunset. Maybe she can't convince the whole room, but she can convince the freaks & weirdos in the room.
And so the winner is...
First, a little history...
...You're welcome. And now back to your regularly scheduled Jane Fonda-ing:
"The ultimate Camp statement: ...it’s good because it’s awful." - Susan Sontag
"Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation — not judgment.
"It is camp because it both succeeds and fails so spectacularly.” - Riccardo Slavik
Full disclosure, I knew I was going to LOVE this movie the second I read the description on IMDB. It just has too many exquisite things going for it, and you should know by now what a sucker I am for all things #camp.
Beyond the delicious premise - Barbarella is an astronaut from Earth sent to a Sodom & Gomorrah like planet to find and stop the evil scientist who wants to destroy humanity, with the help of a literal ARCHANGEL with a fear of flying (who is inexplicably played by a German underwear supermodel??) - Jane goes above and fucking beyond letting herself be Sexploited. She gives us ALL the eye-twinkling from Barefoot in the Park and MORE. She knows exactly what the fuck this is, and she's having FUN with it. This is True Camp.
"Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness."
I think I first fell in love with camp accidentally... I might get shit for saying this, but tbh it was when I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time. They had to lay heavy on their tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, self-aware humor to compensate for their lack of a sci-fi special effects budget, and for me, it fucking WORKED. I was in a shitty place emotionally when I discovered Buffy - wallowing in teen angst and self-pity, but totally lacking the maturity or vocabulary to articulate my deep and valid emotions - and something about mocking the very thing that I wanted the most clicked in my head. Cheesiness, campiness, they were just languages for people who desperately wanted to talk about their feelings but thought feelings were "dumb." For the misanthropic, camp is the only path to catharsis. At least for me it was.
I honestly don't even want to do a recap for Barbarella because you should really all go watch it yourself, but I'll give you my highlights reel:
"Camp is the heroism of people not called upon to be heroes." - Phillip Core
Jane Fonda does some wicked acting here, and it's a testament to how grounded and strong she fundamentally is as a person - made all the more impressive if you watch her HBO documentary Jane in Five Acts (highly recommend) and learn that she wasn't feeling all that grounded at that time in her personal life. But that's the magic of Jane: whatever was going on off-camera, she is a heroine at heart. I think the reason this movie has survived as a cult classic (and not solely as a symbol of sexploitation) is because never feel worried for her. Is what she's doing ridiculous? Of course. Is it relying her sexuality and capitalizing on it? You betcha. Is she totally aware, and leaning into it, and having fun with it, and owning the shit out of it? Fuck yes. Because you know that deep down she is extremely intelligent and capable and, in a sense, "in charge," you can relax and enjoy the absurdity of it... and why not? She is!
So this is what's called an "anthology," a film comprised of three 45 minute segments all based on Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Jane is only in the first one, a piece called Metzengerstein. It was actually Poe's first published piece, largely based on a very old German folktale.
It's important to remember that Vadim, Jane's husband at the time, not only directed this piece but also worked on the modernization... because shit's about to get really weird.
FIRST OF ALL, the original story goes something like this:
It's medieval times, and there are two warring families in the same kingdom. Their hatred for each other goes back so many generations no one can even remember what it's over (although an ancient prophecy about one house destroying the other might be involved). One day, the Lord of House Metzengerstein basically says "enough is enough!" and decides to kill the Lord of the other house by burning down his castle (how exactly DOES one burn down a castle though??). The Lord of the house dies, but there is one survivor... a black horse, whom Lord Metzengerstein becomes weirdly obsessed with. Deep down he low key believes it's the Lord of the house come back to haunt him - but for some reason doesn't kill the horse?? - and just gets, like, really into hanging out with the horse. Then one day - presumably after the horse has lulled the murdery lord into a false sense of security - the horse kicks him off a cliff and he dies. So... moral of the story: don't murder people, or they'll come back as animals and MURDER YOU. I give the story a 7/10.
So Vadim sees this story and is like "OH BOY I HAVE AN IDEA! Let's make my hot wife, Jane Fonda, the murdery lord... but instead of the enemy of her house, let's make it her HOT COUSIN... and hang on here, 'cause it's about to get interesting... let's cast her enemy/hot cousin as... PETER FONDA, HER REAL LIFE BROTHER!! And also let's make her "obsession" with the horse HIGHLY erotic. Like no question about it, my wife wants to fuck a horse. And also her brother. But not in that order."
AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS. HOLLYWOOD JUST LET HIM FUCKING DO THAT.
Her acting in this is nothing extraordinary, because she doesn't have a whole lot to work with... she's supposed to be this delightfully hedonistic, cruel, Cersei-like queen (*cough* incest *cough*) who accidentally falls in love with her worse enemy, then kills him, then becomes obsessed with what she believes is him in ghost-form trapped IN A FUCKING HORSE, and then lets herself go INSANE until the horse literally rides her into a field of flames (??) and they both die. Together. In love.
...I'd like to blame this all on what a CREEP George Vadim is, but tbh, this as been an ongoing problem in Hollywood for some time. Like seriously, where did this obsession with hot blondes and big hairy animals come from??
Like I think it's weird enough when directors choose to direct their wives in sex scenes - remember Revolutionary Road??? Yeah, that was directed by Kate Winslet's then-husband, Sam Mendes. Fucking WEIRD. Not to mention literally EVERY Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter movie... like I think Tim Burton was just hardcore into cuckolding and didn't know how to express it except via film?? The point is, this was pre-GoT, so what's with the totally overlooked incest vibes??
If I learned one valuable thing from Spirits of the Dead it was that Cruel Jane is definitely in her Wheelhouse. Like every actor has a few "types" that they play really well - if you remember from last time, Bitch Meryl was my favorite, Shrill Meryl was my least favorite - and I think we'll be seeing a lot more from Cruel Jane again in the future. She's got all the chutzpah of Spunky But Immature Jane, but she's evolved.
That being said, Cruel Jane didn't get to play very much this round - there were just too many knockouts from Camp Jane.
And the winner is...
So we're skipping ahead a little, because I am DETERMINED to film the Barbarella bracket even if it KILLS ME (which it very well might). In the meantime, take off all your clothes, get in bed, pull up some Turkish food, a glass of Scotch, and READ MY FUCKING BLOG.
HOLY ADORABLE JANE FONDA.
I am obviously already a fan of Jane. I've always thought she had truly underrated comedic timing, and this film showcases the hell out of it. People remember Young Jane for being sexy as hell - and don't get me wrong, she fucking was - but Young Jane was smart as a WHIP too. Neil Simon's language is quick, it's subtle, and it's tongue-in-cheek, so it's painfully apparent when the speaker isn't fully picking up the nuance. Jane played that balance like a goddamn world class violinist.
Minute 1:22 of this clip is when I knew that Jane Fonda was - as I'd suspected after all these years - the girl of my dreams.
I have to give the Janesploitation Award to the actual premise of the story: our stars are newlyweds, and while Redford Buttchin is bringing home the bacon, Jane Fonda is figuring out how to be a good housewife - filled with hilarious shenanigans like accidentally renting an apartment that's up 1500 flights of stairs, or inviting the casually rapey and racist portrayal of a foreign neighbor over for dinner without getting Hubby's permission first.
To be fair, the commentary seems to be more about how the two don't have as much in common as they thought they did - Jane is so carefree she doesn't notice the stairs; she has so much joie de vivre she overlooks the inherent rapiness of the neighbor - but it still comes across with a heavy-handed omnipotent eye roll, and you find yourself waiting for Robert Buttchin to give an Jim-Halpert-esque look to the camera as if to say, "Really? Really, Jane Fonda? ...Women."
But in the end, it's NOT Jane's free spirit (*cough* naivete *cough*) that sends them through the ringer, it's Robert Buttchin's smudgeness. Again, this is a bit of a cop-out because they're wildly overlooking the misogynistic expectations of husbands and wives of the era - Robert is cranky because Jane got an apartment without a bath, and he NEEDS TO HAVE HIS BATHS, JANE - but it was supposed to be a lighthearted comedy, and they were ultimately about as respectful and progressive as they could be. If Robert could only be less smudge, he'd realize that Jane loved the shit out of him, bath or no bath.
Not every movie in this series is going to be a #banger, but this one actually was. For the *most* part, it holds up the test of time, and I really can't say the same for the pre-1970s era of film.
I mean, just fucking LOOK AT JANE FONDA. Here she is, totally being sexploited, but she's making it her own.
Actually, you know what? I figured out what makes this movie different. Up until now, Jane's always been typecast as either 1) innocent, virginal, girl-next-door, or 2) a literal prostitute. This is the first role we've seen her in where she's a healthy dose of BOTH - you know, like actual real human women are. A little naive, but not clueless; sexy, but not a sex-worker (not that there's anything wrong with that, but also like Jesus at least portray them accurately). She's sassy, she's smart, and she's figuring it out. And she is so, so funny.
Comedic timing: 10/10
Physical comedy: 10/10
If Jane was fluent in the dialect of Neil Simon, it stands to say that her French could use a little work. I wanted to be proud of her in this - and I am proud of her for learning another language fluently and committing to act in it - but truthfully, her French is painfully American. As someone raised by bilingual parents (and Francophones at that), I am intimately aware of the years and years it takes to develop and cultivate a natural sounding accent. After over a decade of living in Europe, the best compliment my parents ever received was when Francophones assumed they were British! Sadly, I cannot say the same for Jane.
Actual footage of Jane Fonda learning French:
That being said, literally no one is paying one fuck of an attention to her accent in this, because ummmmmmmm have you seen her in this?? Brigitte Bardot may have been the first sex kitten, but Jane Fonda was a close second (SIDEBAR: DID ANYONE ELSE KNOW THAT "COUGAR" IS SHORT FOR "SEX KITTEN"??? THE TWO ARE RELATED?!?!?! DUH?!??!!)
Like with 99% of the movies I watch, I have one chief complaint: could've been a heck of a lot gayer.
But seriously, I think the premise is actually delightful, and in this golden era of Streaming Platform Original Movies, why not remake La Ronde? Vadim's 1964 version was a remake of Max Ophüls's production from 1950, and both stories are loosely based on the 1897 play Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler.
It's a simple concept, really:
1) A whore offers to sleep with a soldier in Paris for free, because he reminds her of an old lover
2) The soldier thinks he's too good for her, but now has a raging boner (??) so he goes off to seduce a sad but hot nerd at some party
3) She is basically raped at this party, and seeks to spread the nasty by boning her employer's virgin college-aged son (complete in a sexy French maid outfit, of course. Or, I guess since they're all in France, they just call it a sexy maid outfit?)
4) Now that he's been deflowered, the son is inspired to go on a banging spree of his own, and he finally seduces this hot married chick he's been pining over (Jane Fonda!)
5) Jane is so inspired by how great this kid is at boning (and it was only his second time!) that she decides to go home to her husband and sleep with him for a change, aww so sweet
6) Her previously blue-balled husband has had the off switches turned to on, and makes a pass at a hot seamstress. She declines his super flattering offer to be his mistress, because she's applying to be an Ivy League mistress to a moody writer who she's really hoping will write his next great hit about her
7) SPOILER ALERT the writer does NOT go for the costume designer, he goes for SURPRISE the actress
8) But the actress is only interested in young hot guys, particularly some Count dude
9) The Count bangs her, then goes on a banging spree across Paris
10) After a Frank-Gallagher-esque night of blacking out, the Count wakes up with CAN YOU GUESS WHO yep the same goddamn prostitute from the beginning.
The point is, this story could either: 1) be a VERY powerful PSA about how sexually transmitted diseases are spread, or... 2) be a VERY gay story. Seriously, keep it pretty much the same, but minus the SWERFs and the TERFs and make it like 1000% gayer. I'd watch the fuck out of that show.
La Ronde is the closest I think we'll ever get to seeing Jane ride by on her looks, and it's not necessarily her fault - that's literally just how the character is written. I also suspect a lot of the tongue-in-cheek subtleties of the script are lost in translation, because she's performing in another language.
Barefoot was, in some ways, a similar type of character - playing the fool, but always with a twinkle in the eye. In Barefoot it was "but sir, you know I'm only sixteen!" and in La Ronde it was "oh you didn't tell me there was a bed in here!" She's adorable, she's playful, she's sexy as can be.
...But isn't she just a little sexier when she's got some meat on her bones? I mean metaphorically, of course, we're in peak Bulimic Jane here, but Barefoot just has a few more bulbs in the tanning bed, a little more bark in her bite. And that's the Jane I want to see: Jane With Teeth.
The moral of the story is: be gayer, be drunker, be toothier.
And the winner is...
Witchcraft. Jazz musicians. Doctors not believing women. A fur coat. Slut shaming. Excessive misogyny. Why, it feels like 1962 was just yesterday!
The Janesploitation Award this week goes to the ENTIRETY of both these exhausting, hilarious, devastating, terrible films.
(TW: rape, gang rape, a nihilistic reminder that nothing has changed for women since the 1960s, and these movies are ONLY focusing on the rich white ones!)