Spending Sunday in New York with Jane and Rod

There are a handful of films that I love more than life itself. My favorite film, The Wizard of Oz, is clearly one of those, as is my second favorite, Sabrina. Pillow Talk is another one. So is The Thin Man. On the more modern side, there is When Harry Met Sally... What all of these films have in common is the sheer joy they make me feel, no matter what mood I'm in or how many times I've seen them. A few years ago, I was elated to find another movie to add to this list: Sunday in New York.

Jane Fonda plays Eileen Tyler, a young woman who decides to visit her airline pilot brother Adam (Cliff Robertson) in the city after a break-up. We soon learn that, although her boyfriend Russ (Robert Culp) was everything she could want, Eileen couldn't bring herself to lose her virginity to him, admitting that it "just didn't feel right." Frustrated, Russ ended things. Adam assures his sister that she was right to stay chaste and even lies that he is still a virgin himself. Adding to Eileen's conflicted feelings is Rod Taylor's Mike, a handsome stranger who she spends the day with after his jacket became caught on her corsage on the bus.

This plot premise might sound dated to you. I get it. Films that deal with sex, particularly films from the 1950s and '60s, can make you cringe or roll your eyes. They seem to either preach chastity or go about the subject with no intelligence or subtlety. Sunday in New York, thankfully, doesn't really do any of that. Although it is certainly a product of its time -- the sets, costumes, and slightly coded language are dead giveaways -- the film still has a modern sensibility. For example: Eileen never says her problem is with premarital sex, but rather the fact that she just hasn't found the right guy, which makes her feel like something is wrong with her.

What's funny to me is that, although I highly doubt this was intentional, the film acknowledges the people who scoff at its plot when Mike consoles Eileen about her fears: "I don't believe morality ever really changes, not basically. People always have to start from scratch. When you're a kid and you play post office, you get nervous and embarrassed. Your palms perspire. Well, palms perspired in the year 1800 and they'll perspire in the year 2000. Nature is constant." So, yes, this movie may be a little old-fashioned, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have anything to say.

The film begins in the best possible way with Mel Tormé singing the title song over the charming opening credits, which starts with a great shot of the city at sunrise. The rest of the credits expertly introduce the Tylers and Mike. On a train traveling from Pennsylvania to New York, we see a dozing Mike who opens his eyes to see a little kid trying to take his picture. His camera is turned the wrong way, though, so Mike flips it around and flashes a cheesy grin. Right away we know he is a kind, fun-loving person.



Meanwhile, on a different train, a man sees a pair of legs and goes to sit next to the pretty girl they belong to, despite the many other empty seats. That girl, of course, is Eileen, who tries to go back to enjoying her book, although she is uncomfortable by her new friend. No wonder Eileen feels so pressured about sex -- everywhere she goes, she seems to be ogled. On a different note, the symmetry of Mike and Eileen's first scenes already lets us know that these two are meant to be.



Our next introduction is Adam as he lands a plane. He then strides into the airport as the credits finish, his confidence practically radiating off the screen.


The song "Sunday in New York," by the way, was written by Carroll Coates and Peter Nero and was nominated for a Best Song Golden Globe. A popular pianist at the time, Nero actually composed, arranged, conducted, and played piano on the film's entire, wonderfully vibrant score. It mimics the urgency of the bustling city, highlighting the prominence of New York. The score also effortlessly matches the situations and the moods of the script. The connection between the music and the script is so strong, in fact, that I can
listen to any part of the score and easily figure out which scene it belongs to.

SINY rather shamelessly promotes Nero's involvement, to the extent that it almost becomes hilarious. Within the first ten minutes, Eileen gifts her brother a Nero record, which she later plays when Mike is at the apartment. In another scene, she and Mike are talking about music when whaddya know? Nero's name comes up! Then, to cap it all off, the man himself pops
up to perform in a nightclub called -- wait for it -- Club Nero.

The film's other major song is "Hello," a catchy number co-written by Nero and Roland Everett. "Hello" is like the unofficial theme of Eileen and Russ. It is a lovely, whimsical song that speaks to the happier times the couple shared. To showcase her torn feelings over which man she wants, Nero cleverly incorporates pieces of "Hello" into "More in Love," the love theme for
Eileen and Mike. We first hear it blaring on a record player in the apartment after Eileen's failed attempt at seducing Mike. Annoyed, Mike asks “Can we turn that thing off?!” and stops it himself, foreshadowing how he will disrupt Russ and Eileen's relationship. Once Mike realizes how vulnerable Eileen is, they have a sweet conversation that begins with him advising her to wait for sex until she is in love. "I am in love," she replies as a slow instrumental of "Hello" drifts in. Mike looks panic-stricken, but then becomes relieved when Eileen
reveals she is talking about Russ. As she wistfully describes him, a twinge of jealousy comes over Mike, which goes unnoticed by Eileen.

He continues to comfort her and just when it looks like they are about to fall into each other's arms, Russ bursts in, proposes to Eileen, confuses Mike for Adam, and then runs out because his car is double-parked. Wearing only robes and with their clothes strewn about, Eileen and Mike are horrified and try to figure
out an explanation for Russ while they rush to get back in their clothes. A very sped-up version of "Hello" plays on the soundtrack, Nero's cheeky way of acknowledging that Mike and Eileen's tender moment has suddenly turned into a crisis (and slapstick heaven). Later, when Eileen and Russ are at Club Nero, she finally tells him the truth about who Mike is, all while Nero and former Kay Kyser vocalist Harry Babbitt perform "Hello" on the stage. Interestingly enough, we never hear a full version of the song, which illustrates that Russ and Eileen's relationship won't come to fruition. It's disappointing to me that "Hello" didn't become a big hit. I would have loved to have heard Sinatra's interpretation of it, or Ella Fitzgerald's or any number of other people. Truthfully, I'd be happy just to hear a finished version with lyrics!

Sunday in New York came from the pen of Norman Krasna, whose works include Wife vs. Secretary, Bachelor Mother, It Started with Eve, Indiscreet, and lots more. SINY originated as a Broadway play produced by David Merrick, directed by Garson Kanin, and starring Robert Redford as Mike. Interestingly enough, Jane Fonda had been offered the stage role of Eileen, but she turned it down and it went to Pat Stanley instead. When the film was being cast, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty were approached for the lead roles, but they passed. Honestly, I'm glad they did because Fonda and Taylor are letter-perfect.

Eileen's main conflict isn't exactly choosing between Russ and Mike, but her struggle with sex and the double standards expected of women. Fonda does a tremendous job of showing how unsure Eileen is while still keeping her character's intellect and maturity intact. I think a lot of young women can identify with Eileen, and it's great to see the film treat her with dignity and understanding. I love the scene where she and Mike are fighting after she tried to seduce him because it proves this isn't some mindless sex comedy. He is upset because she is a "beginner" and he doesn't want that "responsibility," while she points out the hypocrisy of his whole argument. Both sides listen to each other, and although Mike admits he doesn't entirely agree with Eileen's ideas, he realizes where she is coming from and you can tell he empathizes with her.

Sunday in New York was Fonda's sixth film, and it came at a time when she was primarily playing ingenues. (Side note: How cute are these set photos, especially the one of the Fonda family?) Although it isn't discussed nearly as much as, say, Klute or Cat Ballou, SINY did hold some importance for Fonda's career. Financially, it was her first moneymaker; professionally, it allowed her to demonstrate her flair for sophisticated comedy; and personally, she has said that it was the first time she enjoyed making a film and believed she could act, all because of Rod Taylor.

Out of all of the film's marvelous performances, Taylor's is my favorite. With every viewing, I find something new to adore. Mike Mitchell is a man I could sigh over for days. Krasna may have written the character, but Taylor brought him to life, infusing Mike with all of his humor, wit, compassion, and integrity. And let's face it, Taylor was gorgeous.

"Sunday in New York was fantastic," the actor would later recall. "I love to play high comedy and this
was strictly high comedy. And Jane and I got on so beautifully. She was wonderful, just adorable. And we never stopped laughing, on screen, off screen, just laughing all the time." The best moments in the film are definitely when Fonda and Taylor share the screen. They played off one another so well and you can tell that the actors had a good relationship when the cameras weren't rolling. I mean, I don't want to spoil the ending, but it is heart-melting.

Honestly, the whole cast is terrific. I'm not sure if I would like Adam nearly as much as I do if he weren't played by Cliff Robertson, who spends most of the film trying to get some alone time with his girlfriend Mona. Adam is your typical big brother -- overprotective, "do as I say, not as I do" -- but it is clear that he cares about his little sister. You can also tell that although he throws off playboy vibes, he genuinely loves Mona. Mona is a pretty thankless role, but Jo Morrow does a
fine job with what she is given. As Russ, Robert Culp gives the movie's most outrageous performance and it is a pure delight. Russ's enthusiasm borders on the ridiculous -- it's almost like watching a cartoon when he first appears, he is just so happy and so in love with Eileen. Culp is endearing enough that you can understand what Eileen sees in Russ, but he is also so overbearingly perfect that you get why he isn't right for her.

One of the film's other prominent characters is New York. I read somewhere that the reason why the Broadway play wasn't super successful was because there were constant, tiresome set changes that frustrated audiences. Those changes work great for the film, though, because of the location shooting. All of the exterior scenes were shot in the actual city, therefore many of the places you see are real, such as the skating rink at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and the café beside it. "Sunday in New York, for me, was the first time shooting on the streets of New York," Rod Taylor remarked in a TCM interview. "That was fantastic, stopping traffic, cops coming over for autographs, and everybody going 'Ooh, ahh!' every time I kissed Jane...just wonderful stuff like that. It was very exciting."

While the city provided a splendid background for SINY's romance and hijinks, there is one set in particular that stands out more than the rest and that is Adam's apartment. Although the decor could use some work (there is a lot of plane and military memorabilia), it is still an amazing space thanks to its open floor plan, exposed brick walls, spiral staircase, built-in shelving, and more:






The sunken bar with a small kitchen behind it:


Above the bar, the bedroom can be closed off from the rest of the apartment by the use of privacy shutters:


The bedroom:





Directed by Peter Tewksbury, with exquisite yet simple Orry-Kelly costumes for Fonda, beautiful location work, dazzling performances, impossibly cool music, and a thoughtful, hilarious script, Sunday in New York is sure to enchant you from start to finish. Although I don't think I can ever forgive it for making me believe that I can meet Rod Taylor on the bus one day...





































































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This is my contribution to the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon. Celebrate National Classic Movie Day by checking out the other lovely entries here!

Comments

  1. Charm, wit, heart and Rod Taylor. A perfect comfort movie!

    PS: You had too much fun gathering those screencaps, young lady!

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    1. I really did! I just can't restrain myself sometimes... or rather most of the time. Especially where Rod Taylor and 1960s Fonda are concerned.

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  2. LOVE this movie and your review is perfection. You highlighted all the things that make it so much fun to watch, plus picked up on details I completely missed.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Brittaney! Glad to find the film has another admirer!

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  3. Great review! You brought it all back (like a song)! I came to this movie backwards in the '90s. As a Peter Nero fan buying his LPs and loving the "Sunday in New York" soundtrack, but never having seen the movie. And then there it was on TCM many years ago. I fell in love with the movie, too, but I was the guy who actually liked the love lavished on Peter Nero. Jane Fonda surrounded by an impressive cast of actors. Jim Backus had a small part, though I don't think he and Fonda ever share a scene. Naysayers will say it's too talky, but when the dialogue is snappy and smart as it is here, what's to complain about?

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    1. Thanks! It's always interesting discovering films like that. I listened to the soundtrack for Bells are Ringing countless times before I saw the film -- it was a bit of an adjustment, but I came to love them both.

      I actually didn't really notice how much attention Nero got until my most recent viewing. I could see how some people would find it bothersome how often his name and music come up, but I think the movie does a good job of making it seem organic.

      I so agree with your point about the dialogue. You can tell that this started as a play, but the script is just so wonderful and the actors perform it so well that you don't mind how much talking there is. (In the case of Rod Taylor, I say the more talking, the better!)

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  4. Great post. I love this film - and Jane's awesome wardrobe. Everyone is so young and lovely. Thanks for a great post about a sweet, feel-good film.

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    1. Thanks so much! 1960s Jane Fonda may be my favorite Jane Fonda. Orry-Kelly certainly knocked it out of the park with her clothes here. That eye print!

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  5. Marvellous review, Michaela (as always)! You make a good point about the score, and I never noticed how perfectly it matches the movie. I guess that means I'll have to watch it again to compare notes. ;)

    This movie is a bit dated, but not outrageously so. I agree that Fonda gives nuance to her character, and she's wonderful with Rod Taylor. (And if I start gushing about him, I'll never stop.)

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    1. Thanks, Ruth! The score is in complete harmony with the script and its action. It's quite incredible.

      Oh, Rod Taylor... I can swoon with you in agreement there!

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  6. I adore this kind of 1960s comedies (with LOVER COME BACK being my favorite). Jane and Rod are a cute couple and it's fun to see Culp let it loose with an energetic performance. Like you, I love the set that comprises Adams apartment and the way it's used in one of the film's funniest scenes. This was a delightful choice for a comfort movie blogathon.

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    1. Thank you! I love me a good '60s comedy, too. I'd have to say that Lover Come Back and this film are neck and neck for me. They're both really good examples of what a comedy should be: witty, well-paced, and laugh-out-loud funny.

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