The 1960s were a complex time for Jane Fonda, to say the least.
She went from being the squeaky-clean daughter of an American film legend to being cemented as the country’s resident sex symbol by the time decade ended. But, before Vadim, Barbarella, and the unbridled activism, there was Jane Fonda: the ingenue.
Ahhh, yes. We all remember that Jane.
The perpetual virgin who was hesitant to sleep with a man she didn’t love; the dreaded stereotype.
Of course, this was a noble stance to take, but in the context of romantic pictures, it makes for hilarious situational comedy. Because of this, Jane had the tendency to make multiple versions of the same film.
Girl meets boy, boy loves girl; boy wants to take things a bit faster than the girl was anticipating, girl gets nervous and runs away. Boy gets offended and pursues her even harder until girl relents or she’s talked into it by an older brother or a friend.
Fonda’s early 60s career was littered with movies like this. They were your usual romantic comedies filled with rudimentary plot points that you tend to forget about halfway through the movie – nothing truly notable.
One of the less bothersome and perhaps the more charming films during those years is the sex romp Sunday in New York.
Adapted from the Norman Krasna screenplay of the same name, the film tells the story of wealthy 22-year-old music critic Eileen Taylor and her struggles to come to terms with her sexuality, fueled by a break up with her fianceé.
Eileen hopes to get her mind off of the situation by taking a Greyhound down from Albany to New York City, wanting to drown her sorrows in alcohol with her older brother Adam, played by Cliff Robertson.
Adam, on the other hand, has other ideas.
Instead of commiserating with his baby sister, he’s anticipating a love filled weekend with his modelesque girlfriend Mona, played by Jo Morrow.
When he isn’t neglecting his brotherly responsibilities by day, he flies jetliners by night, spending his off days smoking, boozing, and spending an inordinate amount of time with his girlfriend, primarily living the playboy lifestyle.
You can imagine the look of shock he had when Eileen unexpectedly dropped in for a weekend wanting a shoulder to cry on. This predicament forces Adam, who’s already on thin ice, to postpone his weekend tryst with Mona, much to her dismay.
Pushing aside more “immediate pleasures,” Adam gives his unbridled attention to his sister, hoping to
punch the guy out get to the bottom of the situation. When she tearfully explains that her finaceé dumped her for not “putting out” Adam’s male instinct kicks in.
“How dare he!”
Ironically, Adam was about to try the same spiel on his girlfriend before his baby sister waltz into his apartment, but that doesn’t matter. He thinks this is an abomination! No one treats his sister this way!
“Do as I say, not as I do,” right?
As Eileen emotionally implodes, Adam reassures her that not all men think that way. If she’s patient enough, her “knight and shining armor” will eventually find her and all of her tears will be in vain.
Albeit cringe-worthy, Adam’s words comfort Eileen enough for her to calm down and with more than enough time for him to make amends with Mona. With that, Adam rushes to the phone and begs her to meet him on his next flight out of NYC.
She agrees and with that, Adam bolts out of the door leaving Eileen alone with her tear stained cheeks and mangled emotions.
Being left alone for a few hours forces Eileen to re-evaluate her decisions. She thought about her brother words and how disingenuous they sounded coming from him. Eileen was aware that Adam lived the lifestyle he scolded her about.
This infuriated her, she didn’t want her older brother dictating her life. With that, Eileen took the matter into her own hands and sauntered onto the streets of Manhattan looking for a suitor who would indulge in her fantasy.
Adam, in the meantime, is trying, and failing, to win back his girlfriend’s affections. Due to a series of miscommunication about his plane schedule, Mona ultimately ends up boarding the wrong flight, making her even more irritated and dissatisfied.
Karma? Maybe. It sure seems that way.
Back on the street, Eileen awkwardly succeeds in picking up a suitor. Mike, played by Rod Taylor, is a tall, handsome, newspaperman with a knack for seeing right through people. Eileen brings him back to her brother’s apartment wanting to seduce him but fails when Mike quickly catches on to her drift.
Ashamed and flustered, Eileen has ANOTHER breakdown, forcing Mike to not only yell at her in frustration, but also rethink his life choices.
The latter part of his inner monologue kicks into overdrive when, surprisingly, Eileen’s ex fianceé, Russ played by Robert Culp, walks in on the pair in just their underwear (or in the classic movie sense, their robes.)
Russ returns triumphantly, taking Eileen in his arms and greeting Mike like he’s her brother. He apologizes for the way he treated her and begs for forgiveness, which leaves Eileen with no other choice but to accept his offer.
As if the situation can’t get any more interesting, Adam walks in a few moments later suspicious of the entire thing.
He knows who Russ is, but isn’t entirely sure why this strange man in a bathrobe in his apartment. He suspects why but waits until the situation escalates to voice his displeasure.
When it does, Adam is introduced as Mike’s co-pilot, ending Russ’s confusion, only enraging Adam even further.
Later that night, the trio go out to eat where the tensions rise to unparalleled degrees.
When Russ excuses himself to go the restroom, Adam takes this opportunity to swiftly punch Mike in the nose, shocking Eileen in the process.
Through the pain and humiliation, Mike comes to terms with his feelings for Eileen. He realized this during his introspective walk with her through Manhattan before she invited him back to her brother’s apartment. Even though she ultimately wanted to use him for selfish purposes, he had a soft spot for her, he took on the role of ‘protector’ which made him fall for her even harder.
When Russ comes back from the restroom and sees Mike doubled over in pain and Eileen tending to his wound, he uses context clues to figure out what’s going on and officially re-breaks his engagement with Eileen. In the final scene of the movie, Adam loosens his metaphorical grip on Eileen and “allows” her to continue to see Mike without any hassle.
Written right before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Sunday in New York is just risque enough to keep the audience interested but also charming enough for the classic film purists.
Norman Krasna carefully crafted a romantic comedy that, strangely, feels very modern. Despite it being released in 1963, the rugged looks of Rod Taylor and the fresh-faced Fonda made for an interesting, if not very charming, couple. They bicker, argue, and inevitably makeup, all within the backdrop of the steel towers of Manhattan
Speaking of the leads, Taylor and Fonda did a fantastic job of portraying the three stages of Eileen and Mike’s relationship; first as potential love interests, then enemies, and eventually star-crossed lovers.
The supporting cast didn’t have much to do, but when they did, they knocked it out of the park. Praise is in order for Jo Morrow, Robert Culp, and of course the very handsome Cliff Robertson for doing such a respectable job with almost little to no screen time.
Sunday in New York is a lovely romantic comedy, that often gets overlooked for, flashier, more star-studded affairs. Films like this are one I live for. They aren’t well known, but they sure are movies that should be given more attention.