‘Sunday in New York’: when Jane Fonda was a (movie) virgin

Jane Fonda became such a powerhouse dramatic actress in the 1970s, with movies like “Klute” (1971) and “Julia” (1977), that it is now easy to forget the run of frothy comedies she did when she was just starting out in the movies in the early and mid-1960s.

Although being the daughter of Henry Fonda no doubt opened some doors in Hollywood — her father’s pal, director Joshua Logan, gave the 23-year-old actress her first movie role in “Tall Story” (1960) — Jane quickly proved herself to be a very skilled comedienne.

Warner Archive has just released a DVD of one of Fonda’s earliest films — “Sunday in New York” (1963) — and she is lots of fun to watch in a woefully dated farce about a girl from Poughkeepsie who is tired of being “good” and wonders if she might not find much more interesting men to go out with if she gave up her virginity.

Based on a hit play by Norman Krasna, “Sunday in New York” follows Eileen Tyler (Fonda) on a visit to New York where she stays with her airline pilot brother Adam (Cliff Robertson).

On her first Sunday in Manhattan, Eileen meets a visiting sports writer from The Philadelphia Inquirer — Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor, above & below) — who makes a play for the young woman but backs off when he finds out she’s a virgin.

The plot is bizarrely euphemistic by post-“Sex & the City” 2011 standards, but the stars really sparkle and it’s very amusing to see what was considered daring on screen 48 years ago.“Sunday in New York” is a cut above the other romantic comedies of that period — for one thing, director Peter Tewksbury got MGM to agree to a lot more location shooting than was common at the time.

New York circa 1963 looks great in Metrocolor — we get to see the city just before the decline that caused filmmakers of the late 1960s and 1970s to use the city as a symbol of urban crime rather than a terrific place for falling in love.

The beauty of the setting is augmented by a very tasty jazz score by Peter Nero (who also makes a cameo appearance in a nightclub scene). Eileen Tyler is the sort of pre-feminist part that Fonda would justifiably castigate a few years later — along with the sci-fi sex kitten “Barbarella” (1968) — but the star was almost as good at this sort of thing as that reigning queen of 1960s romantic comedy, Doris Day.

Joe Meyers