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...