Cast & Crew
Jason Robards Jr.
Lillian Hellman reflects on the fortunes of her friend Julia, filled with enthusiasm for European causes and finally killed by the Nazis.
Jason Robards Jr.
Annalisa Nasalli Rocca
Annalisa Nasalli Rocca
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Costume Design
Until her death in 1984, Hellman maintained that she did participate in the Julia story. Others said she wrote herself into another woman's story, an American meat-packing heiress, Muriel Gardiner, who studied with Freud in Vienna, and took great risks to channel her money to fight Hitler before fleeing Europe on the eve of World War II. Gardiner claimed she never knew Hellman, but that a family friend, Wolf Schwabacher, was Hellman's lawyer, from whom Hellman learned of the woman she called Julia, and appropriated her story.
The film, of course, is a reconstruction of a deconstruction. Alvin Sargent won an Oscar® for Adapted Screenplay (Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards, Jr., also won Supporting Actress and Actor Oscars®, giving Julia three of the 11 awards for which it was nominated). One could easily argue that Jane Fonda deserved one, too, for her bravely unplacating incarnation of Hellman as a driven woman who worked to a high standard and couldn't have been easy to live with. Although the film is called Julia, Hellman is the one at its physical if not moral center.
One marvels at how close Sargent came to weaving the story's disparate strands into a cohesive whole in a film that begins and ends with a contemplative mist-shrouded study of a woman alone in a rowboat, fishing, metaphorically casting a line into her memory while actually casting a line into the water. In a voiceover, Fonda's Hellman says she's old now, and memory can be tricky. Still, she says, a bit defensively, one feels, this is the way she remembers it.
Dramatically, the film has several built-in problems. Compelling as the courageous Julia is, she isn't given much screen time. Moreover, while we readily enough believe that Lillian's admiration of Julia (accelerated by a schoolgirl crush) was real and deep, they have almost no screen time together. Then there's the separate biofilm strand involving Hellman struggling to ignite her writing career and stoke what was to be her longtime relationship with Dashiell Hammett (Robards), the father of American hard-boiled fiction. He published his last book, The Thin Man, in 1934. Hellman's playwriting career took off the same year with The Children's Hour. As her star rose, his fell creatively, although Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles kept bringing him money.
Still, the film is called Julia, but if it weren't for flashbacks to their early days, there'd hardly be any Julia-Lillian chemistry at all. They meet only twice, briefly, as adults first, when Lillian interrupts a Paris holiday to seek out Julia, immobilized in a hospital bed in Vienna after being beaten up by Nazi thugs; then, at a tense, hurried meeting at a restaurant near Berlin's railroad station, where Julia, walking with crutches after having had a leg amputated, charges her with a final mission. And yet we can believe that this woman resides somewhere inside Lillian, alongside and perhaps spurring on Lillian's own idealism that took the form of an attachment to communism.
Fonda and Redgrave, as was well known, were sisters in activism Fonda speaking out against the Vietnam War, Redgrave on behalf of beleaguered Palestinians. It can't have been much of a stretch for either to encompass the ideological passions of their respective characters. In both cases, they project the requisite conviction with a fullness that does a lot to carry the jagged narrative. Redgrave almost superhumanly embodies a radiant radicalism, whether squirming with guilt and contempt at her stiflingly wealthy family's callous smugness, or striding across the Oxford quad as a young medical student, aflame with crusading zeal. She's also superhumanly devoid of self-pity. Lillian's shock in Berlin at the sight of her friend's artificial leg is waved aside by Redgrave's Julia with a seraphic smile of throwaway bravery, adding, "No time," then pressing ahead to the only thing she does have time for namely, saving the human race, if not necessarily herself. Fonda's Lillian goes the opposite route from Redgrave's ethereal yet indomitable otherworldliness. She's earthbound and sentient, but edgy, an ambulatory raw nerve. She survives a couple of instances where the film flirts with cliché. The first is when, frustrated with her writing in the Cape Cod cottage she shared with Hammett, she throws her typewriter out the window. Later, her jangly-nerved reaction to the cloak-and-dagger stuff on the Paris-to-Berlin train (well, actually, fur coat and hatbox are the loaded props) keeps it from crumbling into triteness, bookended by Resistance babysitters on one side and Nazi scrutinizers on the other. Fonda's performance crackles with energy, intelligence and integrity. But it's not an ingratiating performance. Lillian's prickliness may have cost Fonda votes.
It's easy to see why Redgrave and Robards won Oscars®. Both benefited from the less-is-more principle. More screen time and we'd have demanded more humanity, more faceting, from Redgrave's Julia. But because we see so little of her, and her ability to seem a luminous figure of moral passion and courage, she becomes compellingly iconic in a performance that all but dared the Academy not to give her an Oscar®.
Robards, when shown the script, complained it gave him little to do. But he makes Hammett's taciturnity work for him. We're aware of the sad weight of rueful experience he keeps inside as he dispenses wisdom in the form of economical, practical good sense advice to Hellman. When she starts climbing the walls, he's the one who gently plants her feet on the ground again, recharges her for her next piece of multitasking against her various demons. The sweet smile the grizzled, haggard, tubercular Hammett shoots her from the edge of the crowd waving off her ocean liner as it sails off to France is heartbreaking. It's the smile of a man who knows he's at the end of his productive life and the woman he loves is at the beginning of hers, and he's generous and gallant about it. (One of Robards' co-nominees was Maximilian Schell, playing down his good looks as a down-at-heel Resistance emissary sent to solicit Hellman's aid in Paris.)
Sargent's craftsmanship is perhaps most impressive in his ability to juggle spy thriller and biofilm and keep Hellman credible as the center of both. Nowhere is he more artful than in telescoping Hellman's career trajectory from frustration, to grinding out a first draft, to anxiously pacing a beach (an English beach played Cape Cod) as Hammett reads it, to hearing his criticism that it isn't bad but that she can do better, to doing better, to phoning him from Sardi's when The Children's Hour has been declared a hit and has put her on the map to stay. Zinnemann, too, turned a potential pitfall into an asset. Aware of the power of black and white, the director of High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953) and A Hatful of Rain (1957) thought a black and white semi-documentary style best suited the film's grim subject matter. But a practical problem arose. How to make the two leads, each approaching 40, look convincing as girls in their late teens? To solve it, Zinnemann brought in Douglas Slocombe, who had photographed Katharine Hepburn in her mid-60s in Love Among the Ruins (TV, 1975) making her look glamorous, and went to color.
It worked. The tasteful craftsmanship, although undeniably romanticizing, imparted a seductive glamour that did not diminish the suspense. The rich, almost royal, red of Fonda's gowns set off the de-glammed self-abnegating earth colors of Redgrave's costumes. And the high gloss of the luxe world of the smart set in which Hellman traveled made more vivid the contrast with the desaturated colors of Hitler's Berlin. It also enabled the film to relieve the grim geopolitics with Broadway first-nights, liveried concierges in four-star hotels, and celebrity-spotting in the persons of Rosemary Murphy and Hal Holbrook as her friends, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell. When the script called for a boorish John Glover to cast aspersions on Lillian, Glover insisted that Fonda not hold back and really hit him. Taking him at his word, she knocked him unconscious.
Fonda later was to recall also being knocked out, figuratively, by a young actress fresh out of Yale Drama School, making her film debut as Anne Marie, a bitchy, supercilious member of Lillian's flossy crowd, in a red suit and black wig, looking down her nose at a mutual acquaintance who died a communist in the Spanish Civil War. Fonda was impressed by the way the young actress, with one movement of a hand to her face, and a certain expression in her eyes, delineated a character. "This one will go far," Fonda told Zinnemann. And so Meryl Streep has.
Producer: Richard Roth
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent; Lillian Hellman (novel "Pentimento")
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Music: Georges Delerue
Film Editing: Marcel Durham, Walter Murch
Cast: Jane Fonda (Lillian Hellman), Vanessa Redgrave (Julia), Jason Robards (Dashiell Hammett), Maximilian Schell (Johann), Hal Holbrook (Alan Campbell), Rosemary Murphy (Dorothy Parker), Meryl Streep (Anne Marie), Dora Doll (Woman Passenger), Elisabeth Mortensen (Girl Passenger), John Glover (Sammy).
by Jay Carr
American Film Institute catalog
Lillian Hellman: Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, Little, Brown, 1973
Fred Zinnemann: An Autobiography, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1992
Jane Fonda: My Life So Far, Random House, 1995
Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography, Random House, 1994
Way down deep he's very superficial.- Dottie
Faye Dunaway turned down the role of Julia.
Released in United States January 1998
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1977
Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 -
February 4, 1998.
Released in United States January 1998 (Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 -)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1977