New Yorker Film Critic Pauline Kael, so often prescient in her evaluation of talent and so precise in writing about performers, wrote in 1969 of Jane Fonda in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?
"Fortunately, Gloria, who is the raw nerve of the movie, is played by Jane Fonda, who has been a charming, witty nudie cutie in recent years and now gets a chance at an archetypal character. Sharp-tongued Gloria, the hard, defiantly masochistic girl who expects nothing and gets it, the girl who thinks the worst of everybody and makes everybody act it out, the girl who can't ask anybody for anything except death, is the strongest role an American actress has had on the screen this year. Jane Fonda goes all the way with it, as screen actresses rarely do once they become stars. She doesn't try to save some ladylike part of herself, the way even a good actress like Audrey Hepburn does, peeping at us from behind "vulgar" roles to assure us she's not really like that. Jane Fonda gives herself totally to the embodiment of this isolated, morbid girl who is determined to be on her own, who can't let go and trust anybody, who is so afraid of being gullible that she can't live.
"Jane Fonda makes one understand the self-destructive courage of a certain kind of loner, and because she has the true star's gift of drawing one to her emotionally even when the character she plays is repellent, her Gloria, like Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs, is one of those complex creations who live on as part of our shared experience. Jane Fonda stands a good chance of personifying American tensions and dominating our movies in the seventies as Bette Davis did in the thirties; if so, Gloria will be but one in a gallery of brilliant American characters."
Later, Kael wrote in her 1971 KLUTE review:
"Jane Fonda's motor runs a little fast. As an actress, she has a special kind of smartness that takes the form of speed; she's always a little ahead of everybody, and this quicker beat--this quicker responsiveness--makes her more exciting to watch. This quality works to great advantage in her full-scale, definitive portrait of a call girl in Klute. It's a good, big role for her, and she disappears into Bree, the call girl, so totally that her performance is very pure--unadorned by "acting." As with her defiantly self-destructive Gloria inThey Shoot Horses, Don't They?, she never stands outside Bree, she gives herself over to the role, and yet she isn't lost in it--she's fully in control, and her means are extraordinarily economical. She has somehow got to a plane of acting at which even the closest closeup never reveals a false thought and, seen on the movie streets a block away, she's Bree, not Jane Fonda, walking toward us.
"... I wish Jane Fonda could divide herself in two, so we could have new movies with that naughty-innocent comedienne as well as with this brilliant, no-nonsense dramatic actress. Her Gloria invited comparison with Bette Davis in her great days, but the character of Gloria lacked softer tones, shading, variety. Her Bree transcends the comparison; there isn't another young dramatic actress in American films who can touch her...."
These quotes help to provide a road map to appreciating Fonda's special talent. In addition to her onscreen work, of course she has also been an icon of style, fitness guru and flashpoint in the culture wars. She's a giant in her field and at 78 she's almost as famous now as ever.
This will be the first and last link to anything Oprah Winfrey related on these pages, but the story she tells here of meeting Greta Garbo tell us something about Fonda's strength of character and philosophy of life. I love it. Hope you enjoy it too: