I was thrilled to get a copy of one of the Warner Archive’s newest disc-on-demand releases — Sunday in New York, a frothy, glossy sex comedy starring Jane Fonda. I’ve enjoyed this movie the several times before I’ve seen it on TCM, and now I can replace my homemade disc with an official one, especially since this one is remastered.
The jazzy self-titled opening tune, gorgeously sung by Mel Tormé and written by Peter Nero, who provides the score, sets the stage for both the era (1963) and mood. As the sleepy city awakes and Fonda and Rod Taylor’s characters travel to the Big Apple, we settle in to enjoy the visuals. Sunday is a day off, a time to explore the big city and see what kind of fun you can have “without spending a dime”, as the song has it.
Fonda’s introduction is typical of the mixed perception of young women of the day — we’re encouraged to ogle her legs and appreciate how her skirt keeps riding up in her train seat while she sucks a lollipop. That dichotomy — is she child or adult? to be protected or make her own decisions? — fuels the plot of the movie. Fonda has come to visit big brother Cliff Robertson, a swinging airline pilot, and to get his advice on a key question. (That query is also the focus of the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, nicely included as a bonus on the disc.)
Has a girl that’s been going around with a fellow a reasonable length of time supposed to go to bed with him or not?
It seems that Fonda’s fiancé, Robert Culp, a rich good catch and otherwise nice guy, has dumped her because she wouldn’t sleep with him. She’s obviously a “good girl” (as the trailer has it, she’s “delightfully daffy as the uneasy doll”) who we’re supposed to enjoy looking at but not touching, no way! However, she’s tired of losing her beaus this way, so she’s decided to find a guy and go all the way while visiting the city. This shocks brother Robertson, a typical hypocrite of the era who clearly has had his share of experience. (He has a closet where he keeps sexy lingerie for his girlfriend, so they’re obviously very well-acquainted.) “Men marry decent girls,” is the lesson big brother imparts, while she feels like “the only 22-year-old virgin alive.” Then she presses Robertson about his habits, while he feints and ducks and lies to her.
Fonda and Taylor meet cute when she snags her flower pin on his suit jacket while on a bus together. Then come all the flirting and mistaken identities and farcical misunderstandings, as Culp shows up unexpectedly and mistakes the robe-wearing Taylor for Fonda’s brother (since he can’t conceive of her being alone with any other man in that state of undress). Eventually, the moral and social order is restored.
I enjoy watching this movie for several reasons. Everyone’s attractive, and Fonda’s wardrobe is lovely. The apartment is glorious, and the glamorized city a fantasyland. There’s plenty of location shooting, with rowing in Central Park and skating at Rockefeller Center. (I loved seeing the Japanese restaurant they went to, sitting on the floor and all.) There’s also lots of faux-sophisticate dialogue about who should or shouldn’t sleep with whom. It’s a charming period piece, a time capsule distillation of particular attitudes at war in a changing era, full of fascinating indicators of the double standard of the time.
For instance, no one questions Culp’s character for putting Fonda in this situation. She’s got to decide whether she will give in or let him go, sadly. No one tells him that nice guys don’t push the question — it’s assumed that as a healthy young man, it’s his right to indulge. Then there’s Robertson’s lingerie closet. Just how many women is he involved with? He tells his sister that he goes out with a couple of girls, although we only ever see the one who serves as comic relief. She keeps trying to be alone with him, but they keep getting frustrated by a lack of suitable places and the flight schedule for his work. (A woman who wants it is a figure of fun, but since we never actually see them do anything wrong, it’s ok as long as she’s frustrated and lightly mistreated as punishment.) Plus, all the men are assumed to be accomplished, but since the women that matter to them — sisters and such — must be decent, just who are they getting this experience with?
Sunday in New York is vaguely smutty for its time but nothing anything would blink at these days, a view of the innocence of the era before America lost its virginity. The picture of social history, and the questions it raises, fascinates me, even though I know it’s all Hollywoodized. All the characters mean well, they’re just trying to muddle through, and it’s funny and entertaining while they do so.