Some actors can play dozens of different parts during their lifetime and only be remembered for one particular fictional persona. Other performers can make a strong impression upon audiences worldwide via their acting skills, but have it all swept under the rug just as soon as they take a strong (often radical) political stance. And so, when you discover a nearly-forgotten flick like Tall Story with Anthony Perkins and Jane Fonda, you instantly wind up saying: “What the hell? Norman Bates and Hanoi Jane together in a ‘60s college comedy?” Indeed, Tall Story is just that — and it’s utterly fascinating to see these two in such offbeat roles as opposed to what we know and love (or hate, depending on your point of view) them for today.
The story here (a Tall one, mind you) consists of an intelligent-but-nevertheless-love-struck coed, June Ryder (Fonda, in her film debut), at Custer College who simply cannot take her mind off of tall, dark, handsome basketball hero Ray Blent (Perkins, just a few months away from achieving everlasting international stardom in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho), who is such a genius that he can calculate his winning shots in his head. Unfortunately, that changes once June starts invading Ray’s space. She even arranges to take the same classes as her dreamy wanna-beau — causing more than a little bit of concern from college professors Sullivan (Ray Walston, who is wonderful as the “stuffy” educator) and Osmond (Marc Connelly, who’s pretty “hip” for his age).
Tall Story is a somewhat “typical” movie for the time (complete with cocktails, Russkies, mobsters, and subliminal caravan advertising), but it’s still a damn fun one. The “adult” actors are living every minute up, while the younger cast do a great job. It’s wonderful to see Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days (interestingly, Clint Eastwood was considered for the part, but couldn’t take it on account of his Rawhide contract), while Fonda is an absolute knockout (especially in those ‘60s horn-rimmed glasses and cheerleader outfit — yowza!). Miss Jane wasn’t the only newcomer here, either: a young Robert Redford is somewhere in the mix here in his first part, as is a guy named Van Williams (the latter appears sans any clothing, it should be noted).