Walk on the Wild Side (US, 1962)

Fonda brings modernity to Hollywood

The film seems to be most famous for the Elaine and Saul bass designed title sequence with a slinky black cat on the prowl however, for me, it’s Jane Fonda’s performance and charisma that mark it as a movie worth seeing. It also includes Barbara Stanwyck in one of her (coded) lesbian roles and Laurence Harvey, an actor I don’t usually enjoy, is excellent as the naive boy with a heart.

It has a classy cast, though one of leads – Capucine – seems to be in the role at the producer’s insistence rather than for her acting skills, and it is directed (though apparently not finished as it was a troubled production) by ‘classic Hollywood’ great, Edward Dymytrk. By having a brothel as a prime setting, and a lesbian as a lead character, Walk on the Wild Side was a thoroughly modern production for its time. Though because of the Production Code it had to imply anything that would be deemed untoward. Of course having Stanwyck, playing Jo the madam, as a lesbian who is cruelly manipulative is hardly a statement of tolerance.

Fonda plays a troubled youngster who just wants to ‘have fun’, though her attempts to seduce Harvey’s Dove Linkhorn are rebuffed. It struck me that her acting style was different to the Hollywood veterans in the cast. Apparently she insisted on changing her dialogue, maybe to make it more naturalistic, and she’s a very physical actor; there’s no standing around waiting her turn for dialogue, she is always engaging with the scene. 

Wild Fonda

She’s only in the film at the start and end but grabs the eyes when she is (and that’s not just to do with how she looks). She was 25 when the film was released and had only just started appearing in movies, after a career on stage. The scenes she has with Anne Baxter, who does her best playing a Mexican gas station owner, show the contrast between the ‘old’ and ‘new’: Fonda wriggles whilst Baxter is stately.

Although obviously hamstrung by the Production Code, the ending is suitably downbeat with the ‘law of compensating values’ (the bad need punishing) only fulfilled as an afterthought on a newspaper front page that’s been discarded. 

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