Jane Fonda Movies: From 'Vietnam Traitor' to Best Actress Oscars

Jane Fonda KluteJane Fonda in Alan J. Pakula's Klute.

Jane Fonda movies on TCM: 'The China Syndrome' & 'Klute' + Jean-Luc Godard drama

Turner Classic Movies' 2014 “Summer Under the Stars” kicked off earlier today, Aug. 1, with a day-long series of Jane Fonda movies. Still reviled by American right-wingers because of her 1972 trip to North Vietnam while the United States was at war with that country – she was photographed seated on an anti-aircraft battery – but admired by others for her liberal views, anti-war activism, and human rights advocacy, the two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner has enjoyed a highly eclectic film career, eventually becoming a rarity among rarities: Jane Fonda is the child of a film star (Henry Fonda) who not only became a film star in her own right, but who went on to become an even bigger screen legend than her famous parent.

Things didn't start out very promisingly: Jane Fonda's first movie was the drab Tall Story, a 1960 comedy that despite a prestigious director (Picnic and Sayonara Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Logan) and screenwriter (Casablanca's Julius J. Epstein) could easily have killed her movie career then and there. But Fonda persevered, and a number of inconsequential movies notwithstanding she went on to achieve fame as a sex symbol of sorts, most notably via the futuristic camp fest Barbarella (1968), directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim.

Surprising her critics (and even many of her admirers), in 1969 Jane Fonda suddenly became a Respected Actress thanks to her performance as a Depression Era marathon dancer opposite Michael Sarrazin in Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which earned Fonda her first Best Actress Oscar nomination, in addition to the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Actress Award. (Fonda lost the Oscar to upset winner Maggie Smith in the British-made The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.)

Jane Fonda at her best in 'The China Syndrome'

Right now, TCM is showing one of Jane Fonda's best movies and performances: James Bridge's 1979 socially conscious thriller about the dangers of nuclear reactors, The China Syndrome, which opened right at the time of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania – considered the most dangerous such occurrence in American commercial nuclear power plant history. Fonda deservedly received her fifth Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a television journalist who goes from disseminating the usual fluff found on American TV news to some hardcore reporting.

A few years before Romancing the Stone and Fatal Attraction turned him into a bankable superstar, The China Syndrome producer Michael Douglas plays a TV cameraman, while Best Actor Oscar nominee and Cannes Film Festival Best Actor winner Jack Lemmon is outstanding as the nuclear facility employee who comes to the realization of the imminent and potentially catastrophic danger at the plant. A major box office hit, The China Syndrome was written by eventual Writers Guild Award winners James Bridges, Mike Gray, and T.S. Cook.

Jane Fonda's controversial Oscar win for 'Klute'

The story of a private detective (Donald Sutherland) investigating the disappearance of a businessman who may have been involved with a New York City sex worker, the Alan J. Pakula-directed, Gordon Willis-shot Klute (1971) earned Fonda, as the prostitute, her first Best Actress Oscar and her second New York Film Critics Award, in addition to a Golden Globe and a National Society of Film Critics Award.

At the time of her Oscar win in April 1972 – when her anti-Vietnam War activism had made her the bane of American nationalists – Jane Fonda reportedly received some boos from the audience, though, as explained in Mason Wiley and Damien Bona's Inside Oscar, only the applause could be heard on television. After thanking “all of you who applauded,” the actress famously told the crowd gathered at downtown Los Angeles' Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: “There's a great deal to say, but I'm not going to say it tonight. I just want to thank you very much.”

In my humble opinion, Jane Fonda isn't at her best in Klute; apart from deciding to make a political statement, that Best Actress Oscar should have gone instead to Glenda Jackson in John Schlesinger's Sunday, Bloody Sunday. As an aside, while watching Klute keep an eye out for Sylvester Stallone (to be seen in a couple of weeks in The Expendables 3), early transgender performer and Andy Warhol “Superstar” Candy Darling, and All in the Family actress Jean Stapleton in bit parts. (Note: Jane Fonda's second Best Actress Oscar would be for Hal Ashby's 1978 Vietnam War-related drama Coming Home, co-starring Jon Voight and Bruce Dern. See also: Jane Fonda at Coming Home screening & “Vietnam Vet Spits on Jane Fonda.”)

'Cat Ballou'

Less controversial but even more surprising than Jane Fonda's Best Actress Oscar win was Lee Marvin's Best Actor win for playing two distinct characters – a gun-toting villain and a drunkard riding an equally drunken horse – in feature-film newcomer Elliot Silverstein's irreverent Western Cat Ballou (1965). Jane Fonda starred in the title role, as a prim schoolteacher-wannabe turned anti-establishment outlaw after her Wyoming rancher father (Love Story and Faces' John Marley) gets killed.

Lee Marvin, in a role that Kirk Douglas reportedly turned down, beat Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker), who later claimed he actually stood up when the Best Actor Oscar winner was announced, believing he had heard Julie Andrews read out his name. Written by Walter Newman (Ace in the Hole) and Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon), from Roy Chanslor's considerably darker novel The Ballad of Cat Ballou, Silverstein's film also features Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as a singing duo.

More Jane Fonda movies: 'Any Wednesday' & 'Tout Va Bien'

Adapted by Julius J. Epstein from the Broadway hit by Muriel Resnik, the Robert Ellis Miller-directed Any Wednesday (1966) is a sort of poor man's The Apartment, with Dean Jones as a man who, after being set up in a New York City flat, accidentally falls for the lover (Jane Fonda) of a married executive (Jason Robards) with whom he's doing business. Unfortunately, unlike Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning classic, Any Wednesday lacks wit, pathos, and good acting. Sandy Dennis played Jane Fonda's role on Broadway, winning a Tony for her efforts.

TCM premiere Tout Va Bien a.k.a. All's Well (1972), a sociopolitical-psychological drama written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard (with collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin), should certainly be more interesting than Any Wednesday. Jane Fonda and Yves Montand star as, respectively, an American journalist and her French commercial-director husband, both of whom become involved in a strike at a sausage factory. Godard and Gorin would later collaborate on the featurette Letter to Jane, in which the filmmakers discuss a photograph of Fonda taken in North Vietnam. I should add that in the 1980s the formerly left-wing and liberal-minded Yves Montand, whose credits include Costa-Gavras' Z, The Confession, and State of Siege, would become quite an unabashed right-winger and Ronald Reagan admirer.

[“On TCM: Klute and Other Jane Fonda Movies” continues on the next page. See link below.]

Note: An earlier version of “On TCM: Klute and Other Jane Fonda Movies” had Rod Steiger as the New York Film Critics Circle's 1965 Best Actor winner. In reality, Steiger tied with Lee Marvin in second place; the actual New York Film Critics' winner was Oskar Werner for Stanley Kramer's all-star drama Ship of Fools – which also featured Lee Marvin.

Jane Fonda This Is Where I Leave You Jason Bateman
Jason Bateman and Jane Fonda in This Is Where I Leave You.

Jane Fonda: From 'Vietnam Traitor' to AFI Award and Screen Legend status

Turner Classic Movies will also be showing the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony honoring Jane Fonda, the former “Vietnam Traitor” and Barbarella-style sex kitten who has become a living American screen legend (and healthy-living guru). Believe it or not, Fonda, who still looks disarmingly great, will be turning 77 years old next December 21; she's actually older than her father Henry Fonda was while playing Katharine Hepburn's ailing husband in Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond. (Henry Fonda died at age 77 in August 1982.)

Jane Fonda movies in 2014 & 2015

Following a 15-year absence (mostly during the time she was married to media mogul Ted Turner), Jane Fonda resumed her film acting career in 2005, playing Jennifer Lopez's domineering mother-in-law and Michael Vartan's mother in the box office hit Monster-in-Law. Additionally, Fonda was recently seen as Felicity Huffman's mother and Lindsay Lohan's grandmother in Garry Marshall's Georgia Rule; as Catherine Keener's mother and Elizabeth Olsen's grandmother in Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding; and as Nancy Reagan opposite Alan Rickman's Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels' The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Next in line are Shawn Levy's dramatic comedy This Is Where I Leave You, with Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Rose Byrne, and which is scheduled to open in September 2014; Paolo Sorrentino's The Early Years, with Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, and Paul Dano; and Gabriele Muccino's Fathers and Daughters, with Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, and Aaron Paul.

Oscar nominations

For the record, Jane Fonda's seven Academy Award nominations were for the following films (all but one as Best Actress):

  • Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969); she lost to Maggie Smith in Ronald Neame's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
  • Alan J. Pakula's Klute (1971); she won.
  • Fred Zinnemann's Julia (1977); she lost to Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.
  • Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978); she won.
  • James Bridge's The China Syndrome (1979); she lost to Sally Field in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae.
  • Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond (1981); she lost in the Best Supporting Actress category to Maureen Stapleton in Warren Beatty's Reds.
  • Sidney Lumet's The Morning After (1986); she lost to Marlee Matlin in Randa Haine's Children of a Lesser God.

Jane Fonda movies: TCM schedule (PT) on August 1, 2014

3:00 AM TALL STORY (1960). Dir.: Joshua Logan. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Jane Fonda, Ray Walston. Black and white. 89 mins. Letterbox.

4:45 AM PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT (1962). Dir.: George Roy Hill. Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Jane Fonda, Jim Hutton. Black and white. 111 mins. Letterbox.

6:45 AM WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (1962). Dir.: Edward Dmytryk. Cast: Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Joanna Moore, Richard Rust, Don 'Red' Barry, Karl Swenson, Juanita Moore, John Anderson, Ken Lynch. Color. 114 mins. Letterbox.

8:45 AM IN THE COOL OF THE DAY (1963). Dir.: Robert Stevens. Cast: Jane Fonda, Peter Finch, Angela Lansbury. Black and white. 84 mins. Letterbox.

10:15 AM THE CHAPMAN REPORT (1962). Dir.: George Cukor. Cast: Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Shelley Winters, Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns, Ray Danton, Ty Hardin, Andrew Duggan, John Dehner, Harold J. Stone, Corey Allen, Cloris Leachman, Chad Everett, Henry Daniell, Alex Cord, Lesley Ann Warren. Color. 125 min.

12:45 PM SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963). Dir.: Peter Tewksbury. Cast: Rod Taylor, Jane Fonda, Cliff Robertson. Color. 105 mins. Letterbox.

2:45 PM THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979). Dir.: James Bridges. Cast: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton, Peter Donat, Richard Herd, Wilford Brimley. Color. 122 mins. Letterbox.

5:00 PM AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD TO JANE FONDA (2014). Color. 66 mins. Letterbox.

6:15 PM CAT BALLOU (1965). Dir.: Elliot Silverstein. Cast: Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Nat King Cole, Stubby Kaye, Reginald Denny, John Marley, Jay C. Flippen, Arthur Hunnicutt, Bruce Cabot. Color. 96 mins. Letterbox.

8:00 PM AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD TO JANE FONDA (2014). Color. 66 mins. Letterbox.

9:15 PM KLUTE (1971). Dir.: Alan J. Pakula. Cast: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider, Dorothy Tristan, Rita Gam, Nathan George, Vivian Nathan, Morris Strassberg, Jean Stapleton, Rosalind Cash, Candy Darling, Kevin Dobson, Veronica Hamel, Richard Jordan, Sylvester Stallone. Color. 114 mins. Letterbox.

11:15 PM ANY WEDNESDAY (1966). Dir.: Robert Ellis Miller. Cast: Jane Fonda, Jason Robards Jr., Dean Jones, Rosemary Murphy, Ann Prentiss. Color. 109 mins. Letterbox.

1:15 AM TOUT VA BIEN (1972). Dir.: Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jane Fonda, Yves Montand, Vittorio Capprioli. Color. 96 mins. Letterbox.

Jason Bateman and Jane Fonda This Is Where I Leave You photo: Warner Bros.

Jane Fonda Klute photo: Warner Bros.

Jane Fonda Movies: From 'Vietnam Traitor' to Best Actress Oscars © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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4 Comments to Jane Fonda Movies: From 'Vietnam Traitor' to Best Actress Oscars

  1. Robert W. Anderson

    Media outlets should know that there is still a significant number of people out here in the real world who will never support anything Ms. Fonda has done or ever will do.
    What she did, doesn't actually meet the definition of treason. It's actually a little treasonous and a lot seditious.
    Her little photo-op took place while men were rotting in POW camps. Some very close to where she was playing the useful idiot for the North Vietnamese. And at that same time American boys were fighting to help give the South Vietnamese the liberty they wanted.
    In a sane world, a person who behaved as she did. Should be shunned until she conceded she wronged me and all the other veterans then and now.
    I look forward to her retirement from public life. She is a mockery to all decent Americans, liberal and conservative.

  2. Manfred De Veer

    She's fabulous! no to mention best actress as Monster-in-Law!

  3. Bill B.

    It's August 2nd and I am just reading this! Can't believe I missed all of this. I slowly stopped paying attention to this site as it seemed to be dissipating. I will now have to again pay more attention as I have read some interesting & unusual things here over the years. I would have loved to have seen Klute again as it's been years. I disagree with the previous article that Fonda didn't deserve the Oscar for Klute. It's a great performance and possibly second in my opinion only to her work in the brilliant They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I think most would agree with me about her win for Klute. I remember it well and if the Oscar voters could have found anyone anywhere near as deserving, they would have given it to another as Fonda was so disliked and so controversial at that time, but there was just no denying that she deserved it much to the dismay of many. But there was no one else near as worthy. She won every award imaginable that year except, as I recall, the National Board of Review who gave it to Janet Suzman for Nicholas and Alexandra in a desperate attempt to give their award to someone, anyone, other than Fonda, something I feared might occur again at the Oscars. I do think that Glenda Jackson was probably the next best thing, though I also enjoyed Julie Christie in another favorite film of mine, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. In any event, so sorry I missed AMC yesterday, but glad there are more interesting articles on this site again. Fonda has led an amazing life and has had a great career and I was very sad when she “retired”. And I agree, she looks amazing, but then, she always did. I own the DVD's of They Shoot Horses, Don't They & The China Syndrome. Need to get a copy of Klute. Also loved her in Coming Home, The Dollmaker & Barefoot In the Park (a delightful comedic performance). I've read that she turned down both Bonnie & Clyde and Network. If that is true, she missed out on two great opportunities. I'm sure Faye Dunaway isn't unhappy about it though.

  4. djebel levinson

    I just took a smoke break while watching Klute and had to thank you for reminding me about Marvin's win over Steiger. Good conversation tidbits that help root out fellow cineastes are difficult.