Tall Story (1960): Logan’s Romantic College Comedy, Starring Anthony Perkins, Jane Finda and Robert Redford (Both Making Screen Debuts)

Joshua Logan directed Tall Story, a pedestrian romantic college comedy, starring Anthony Perkins and Jane Fonda in her very screen debut.

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

Tall Story
Tall story poster 2.jpg

Original 1960 poster

 

It is based on the 1957 novel The Homecoming Game by Howard Nemerov, which was the basis of a successful 1959 Broadway play titled Tall Story by writing team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

The film was a departure from Logan’s previous projects, the drama Sayonara, which starred Brando and won multiple Oscars, and the blockbuster South Pacific.

It was Robert Redford’s first film, playing a basketball player in an uncredited role.

The film is a farcical social satire of American campus life, making fun of the way college life can become a marriage market for some students. Fonda portrays a character who is the complete opposite of the independent liberated woman she later personified.

At Custer University, Ray Blent is an honor student and college basketball star. June Ryder has come to the university to study home economics and to find a husband.

Both students and faculty are scandalized by Ryder’s unashamed pursuit of Blent. She joins the pom-pom girls and attends the classes taken by Blent to ensure contact with him.

Everyone is aware of her designs on the sexually naive Blent except for him. She works hard through deception on convincing him that she has intelligent, inquiring mind.

She eventually gets Blent to fall for her and propose marriage. However, there are obstacles: they need money to set up a home.

Blent is secretly propositioned, via radio message by gambling syndicate, to lose key game with visiting Russian team. He refuses, but he is unable to return the money as he does not know who is behind the bribe.

Instead, he decides to deliberately fail an ethics exam, which disqualifies him from playing. As the class’ best student, the only way he can fail is by copying Ryder’s paper.

Ethics professor Leo Sullivan is under extreme student and faculty pressure to reverse the failure and give Blent passing grade. He refuses to do this, but finally consents to give Blent an oral retest during the game.

Blent passes and plays for the last few minutes, achieving one-point victory for the school.

Producer-director Joshua Logan originally intended the film to be a vehicle for Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty screen debuts, but Warner would not approve the unknown Beatty, and Logan had to settle for his second choice, Anthony Perkins.

Fonda hated the Broadway play, but was pleased that her part in the film had been expanded. Logan, a good friend of her father Henry Fonda, saw Jane as a potential major star. He wanted to guide in her first film experience; she had been modelling for several years. But Fonda found it a “Kafkaesque nightmare,” noting in her autobiography “My Life So Far” that during the moviemaking, she suffered from bulimia, sleepwalking and irrational fears about being “boring, untalented and plain.”

In 2019, Fonda stated both she and Logan were in love with actor Anthony Perkins (then latently gay), causing further tension during an already difficult shoot.

Campus scenes were shot at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.

The film was neither a commercial nor a critical success.

Time magazine reviewer wrote: “Nothing could possibly save the picture, not even the painfully personable Perkins doing his famous awkward act, not even a second-generation Fonda with a smile like her father’s and legs like a chorus girl.”

Cast
Anthony Perkins as Ray Blent
Jane Fonda as June Ryder
Ray Walston as Professor Leo Sullivan
Marc Connelly as Professor Charles Osman
Anne Jackson as Myra Sullivan
Murray Hamilton as Coach Sandy Hardy
Bob Wright as President Harmon Nagel
Bart Burns as District Attorney Davis
Karl Lukas as 1st Detective
Elizabeth Patterson as Connie
Tom Laughlin as Fred Jensen
Barbara Darrow as Frieda Jensen
Joe E. Ross as Mike, restaurant owner

Credits:

Produced, Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Julius J. Epstein (script), Howard Nemerov (1957 novel The Homecoming Game), based on Tall Story 1959 play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay
Cinematography Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Philip W. Anderson
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge

Production and distribution: Warner Bros.

Release date: April 6, 1960 (U.S.)

Running time: 91 minutes
Box office $1,700,000 (US/ Canada)