Jane Fonda, the Ideal Barbarella
by Andrew Sarris
"BARBARELLA" is not nearly the disaster it had every intention of being. Somehow its comic strip conceits and Playboy-Bunny-in-Disneyland decor manage to sustain themselves for 100 minutes without getting too heavy or too silly. Terry Southern is listed among the multiple writing credits, and I suppose he can be credited with some of the literate tone in the gags, most of which sound better than they read. But the one indispensable ingredient in this confection is Jane Fonda not only as the ideal Barbarella but also as perfect casting for Babs whenever someone gets around to filming Southern's "Flash and Filigree."
From her opening space-suit strip-tease through every single and double entendre in the script and gadgetry, our Jane manages to exude the kind of healthy girl-scoutish non-campish sexuality that should be as accessible to our children as the morbidly repressed Peter Pansy entertainments now to be imposed on them via classification.
Otherwise, "Barbarella" does not stand too close scrutiny. Its satiric ideas hark back to the familiar tradition of sentimental humanism in the matter of natural instinct versus the Pill and a palmy variation of Wilhelm Reich's orgasms via the organ grinder. Italian intellectuals have been particularly adept at playing the Vatican's game by ridiculing birth control in the name of unbridled heterosexuality that is pure fantasy in the hairy form Ugo Tognazzi embodies it in "Barbarella." Not that Roger Vadim shares this particular hypocrisy with his Italian collaborators and investors, but merely that Sophia Loren's ersatz earthiness is as comforting a compensation for repressed Italians as the seamless sensuality of Playmates are for repressed Americans. Ideological considerations aside, David Hemmings deserves particular commendation as a comically inept interplanetary revolutionary...
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]