Calling it scrumptious is generous, maybe — the comedy’s safe, not sharpened, the romance’s square, not sizzling — but when a crowd-pleaser is populated by beautiful people in beautiful clothes, dancing around a beautiful, becomingly artificial New York City, traditionalism can be acceptable. Especially when the traditionalism mostly orbits around a 25-year-old Jane Fonda, who in Sunday in New York comes into her own as a leading lady.
In the movie, she plays a character Day might have had her cinematic sexual awakening occurred in her mid-20s rather than in her late-30s. Here, Fonda is Eileen Tyler, a 22-year-old music critic suffering a recent breakup. Given the man with whom she broke ties is the aggressively nice, all-American Russ (Robert Culp), it isn’t him being out of her life that she’s bothered by per se.
What she’s bothered by is the fact that she’s 22 and still a virgin. Not horny or really even that interested in starting another relationship, her intention to be deflowered is less about her own desiring to declare herself a grown-up but more an awareness that, socially, she’s out of place.
Because she cannot stand to be in her hometown while her personal life’s runny — envisioning her parents giving her vaguely passive aggressive advice torments her, as does the idea of running into Russ, who lives nearby — she crashes her brother Adam’s (Cliff Robertson) New York apartment to escape for a while. Such isn’t out of the ordinary: Eileen usually comes to the city every Sunday anyway. This visit will just have to be longer.
Adam is a supportive sibling, but his sympathizing with Eileen’s plight leads him to a great lie. When she reasons that there isn’t anything wrong with remaining virtuous, he agrees, and thoughtlessly declares that he too has never gone to bed with any of his love interests. But that’s far from the truth — in the past has he juggled many bedfellows at once. Currently, he’s having a hot-and-heavy courtship with the spitfire Mona (Jo Morrow).
But his dishonesty, in a way, leads Eileen to find a potential beau for herself. When Mona stops by the apartment one afternoon, thinking she and Adam will get a couple minutes in bed in before he has to go to work, Eileen becomes a cock block. Adam and Mona make up some excuse why they can’t stick around. But moments after they leave, Adam gets an urgent call from work, and this leads Eileen to go about the city looking for him.
While taking the bus, she captures the attention of Mike (Rod Taylor), a handsome businessman type. After she abandons prospects of tracking down her brother and says yes to a date with Mike, Eileen decides, after a couple false starts, that maybe this man will be the one to finally take her virginity.
But before the twosome can finish figuring out whether they really like each other, Russ shows up out of nowhere, declaring that he’s asked for the Tyler family’s blessing and that he intends to marry Eileen as soon as possible.
Lots of mix-ups come about, as they might in a featherweight romantic comedy as this one. (To save face, for instance, Eileen pretends Mike is actually Adam when Russ walks in on them in a precarious situation, leading to bountiful mischief.) Nothing ever really sticks laugh-wise — the comedy’s about as pointed as the kind found in a forgotten sitcom that got canceled thanks to the popularity of The Dick Van Dyke Show (1960-1966).
But the cast is appealing enough, and so is MGM’s expensive dressing of the Photoplay-ready scenery. Fonda’s performance is sometimes effective, sometimes dicey (we understand why she was more a fixture of New Hollywood than she was the dying Golden Age), but Taylor, affable but substantial, and Robertson, wise-cracking, are memorable. Even Culp, chained to such an obnoxious character, feels corporeal, especially when his heart’s broken and his Donny Osbourne smile starts to crack.
You’d probably be better off consuming Pillow Talk (1959) for the umpteenth time, but Sunday in New York, for its forgettability, for the way it pretends it isn’t wholesome but staunchly is, is still pretty congenial.
Movies like it would all but vanish into thin air in a matter of a few years, and there’s good reason why. But to see a romantically minded, very old-fashioned MGM taking its last few breaths is fascinating, as is seeing Fonda before Hanoi became her first name and Jane her last. B-
1 Hr., 45 Mins.
Sunday in New York August 25, 2017
n which sex — and love, sort of — is constantly on the brain. Sunday in New York (1963) is a romantic comedy evidently produced in a post-Doris Day Hollywood and distinctly an older generation’s idea of a hip genre detour. But that doesn’t make it less of a scrumptious trifle.