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).
Other people of interest involved in Tall Story include Gary Lockwood as on-hand as a rival Russian basketball player, future Filipino/Italian cult movie favorite Richard Harrison as an American student, Jaws star Murray Hamilton in the role of the Custer College coach, and Anne Jackson is a pure delight as Ray Walston’s wisecracking wife. Bobby Darin sings the movie’s theme song (also called “Tall Story”), and Joshua Logan (South Pacific, Camelot, Paint Your Wagon) directs the screenplay by Casablanca co-writer, Julius J. Epstein (and no, the “J” didn’t stand for Juan — at least, I don’t think it did). Oh, and did I mention that there’s a scene where Perkins and Fonda sing a few bars of a group song? How can you resist a movie like this?
Warner unveils this wonderful comedy as part of its Warner Archive Collection (I’m so glad they came out with this program — else we wouldn’t see many of these classics anytime soon), giving us the very first digital release of this neglected flick. The movie has been remastered, looks quite nice, and is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen ratio with a 2-channel mono soundtrack. A single special feature — something rather uncommon for these Manufactured-on-Demand titles — is present in the form of a theatrical trailer.