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This is a nicely produced, loving biography tribute to Nebraska-born Henry Fonda, hosted by daughter Jane Fonda. It was likely made to fill an hour of television time, but clocks in at less than 50 minutes when shown without commercials, on "Turner Classic Movies" (TCM). That's not a lot of time for this man's acting career. Son Peter Fonda and fifth wife Shirlee are the other Fonda family members appearing. And, James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn are the other actors contributing to the documentary.
Mr. Stewart and Fonda were obviously very close, and admirably decided to put friendship above their increasingly oppositional political views. An amusing clip from "The Cheyenne Social Club" (1970) features Fonda's character asking Stewart's character for a $20 loan, for whiskey and a shirt. Stewart tells Fonda he already has two shirts, and can only wear one at a time. Fonda retorts, "There ya go thinking like a Republican again," to which Stewart advises, "You don't bring up politics" while borrowing money.
Ms. Hepburn reminisces about their great shared success "On Golden Pond" (1981). Sidney Lumet, who directed Fonda in the classic "Twelve Angry Men" appears, and Fonda's collaboration with John Ford is noted. Director Ford was important in channeling the young actor into iconic roles. In his first films, Henry Fonda resembled an idealized "farm-boy" type, which could be traced back to Richard Barthelmess and Robert Harron. Ford and Fonda brought the character to a peak with "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940).
There is some "home movie" color footage from the black-and-white films "My Darling Clementine" (1946) and "Fort Apache" (1948), along with a "rehearsal" scene from the stage production of "Mister Roberts" (1948). The latter was a celebrated comeback film, after a period when Fonda was offered fewer roles in conservative Hollywood. Other films discussed are "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939), "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939), "The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), and "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968).
As the running time and guest cast suggest, "Fonda on Fonda" hits only the high points of Henry Fonda's career. So, don't expect an extensive review of the TV shows "The Deputy" or "The Smith Family". There are numerous relationships and a wealth of work not covered in any detail. Family problems are acknowledged, but not dwelled upon. If you know the actor, you probably won't be too startled by anything contained in "Fonda on Fonda". But, if you don't know too much about Fonda, this is a good start.
****** Fonda on Fonda (1/13/92) David Heeley ~ Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, James Stewart
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