Julia (1977)

Julia (1977), directed by Fred Zinnemann.

The presented-as-true tale of Lillian Hellman and her aristocratic friend Julia, who became an anti-fascist activist in dangerous 1930s Europe. Lillian herself is recruited to carry resistance money into Berlin. They tell her: "You are perhaps not the best choice, being a Jew". No kidding.

Exquisite period detail and the ominous rise of the nazis is stomach-churning in its intensity: soldiers everywhere, always having to show your papers, people disappearing, being watched. And yet the clubs and restaurants are still open and tourists can have a great time all night long.

Perhaps lost in the film because never clearly explained, even to each other, is the story of Julia & Lillian. A great passion, platonic but still grand, ending in tears.

I saw this in the theater back then and it did not make much of an impression. Now it seems finely done if slowly paced in the first half. Lillian and Dashiell Hammett -- both writers, after all -- tend to declaim at each other, and Lillian has the irritating habit of bellowing in English over the phone in countries where people don't speak the language.

I also thought Jason Robards looked like Jane Fonda's grandfather. How my perspective changes with time! And he was only 15 years older anyway.

Lovely composition by photographer Douglas Slocombe. As was popular in the 1970s, the camera used filtering to give a soft, classic film look.

Georges Delerue score.

Available on Twilight Time Blu-ray.

Nick Redman interviews Jane Fonda for the commentary track. I always expect Fonda to be hyper-political and radically chic, but she comes across as a normal well-balanced person. She met the elderly Lillian Hellman and described her as both fascinating and difficult.

Hellman's account of this as a true story has been challenged, to put it politely.