Tall Story (DVD Review)6 Feb, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Anthony Perkins, Jane Fonda, Marc Connelly, Bob Wright, Ray Walston, Tom Laughlin, Anne Jackson, Murray Hamilton.
If you recently saw 74-year-old Jane Fonda looking so smashing on the Golden Globes, it’s possible that you can project how she affected, at age 22, young boys who were entering puberty. Even so; I’m pulling rank on this one; my oldest pal Jim Freeman and I (both of us not quite 13 at the time) bussed down to the RKO Palace for the first Saturday show when Fonda’s screen debut came to town. Actually, we made this trek from the suburbs because Tall Story was at least in part a college basketball movie, and this was the kinetic era when our own instant-legend of a local team (Ohio State’s) included future NBA deities Jerry Lucas (playing center) and John Havlicek (forward). But then we saw Jane, and our lower regions began emitting banshee screams against conga drum backing, kind of like Desi Arnaz performing Babalu in full flurry. Even Havlicek didn’t do this for us, though he will always remain my favorite player.
So between the sports and sex angles I’ve always had some mild affection for what is undeniably romantic piffle, a modest black-and-white comedy running less than 90 minutes and one a good deal more diverting than the two gargantuan money losers that rudely ended Story director Joshua Logan’s screen career later in the decade: Camelot and Paint Your Wagon. The object of Fonda’s affection here is a college hoops star played by Anthony Perkins, whose character we see lap-dogged around campus by an adoring chorus of students who look as if they want to start sing "For He’s a Jolly Good Shooter." Pal Jim’s older brother Lew, then at OSU himself, pointed out to us that this was not how fellow students treated Lucas. That would have constituted bad form.
In ways that don’t quite synch with actress Fonda’s subsequent second career as a feminist and political activist, her character here isn’t too subtle about using college to land a husband — preferably a tall one from the basketball pool. Her target becomes All-American Perkins (who is what has since come to be termed a student-athlete), so she a) enrolls in as many mutual classes as she can; and b) starts slinging a pom-pom for the school in order to make all the games. Nature takes over and leads to the two of them starting to think of matrimony and even buying a trailer — one whose teensy shower can just squeeze in two people. As its owner (Tom Laughlin, much later of Billy Jack) notes, sometimes he and the wife even bother to turn on the water after they’ve shoehorned themselves in.
But marriage costs money, which indirectly synchs to a subplot about a Perkins offer from gamblers to help throw a game — an exhibition against a Russian team whose name is the Sputniks (nice). Even with the movie’s short running time, this gets mildly labored, though there’s some fun from seeing Ray Walston play an academic — an obvious specialty of his if you remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the great scene where he intercepts the pizza Sean Penn has ordered when class is in session.
Perkins has taken a lot of razzing in recent years for his limp-wristed portrayal of rifle-armed BoSox outfielder Jim Piersall in 1957’s Fear Strikes Out, including some from guest Billy Crystal on a memorable late-‘80s David Letterman show where the comic asserted, in another bit, that Yul Brynner was the initial choice over William Bendix to play the Bambino in 1948’s The Babe Ruth Story. But I can also remember my jock-ish father walking in during a Story TV airing later in the decade and saying of Perkins, “this guy’s no athlete” — something that some oddly shot and edited court scenes can’t camouflage.
Nonetheless, the leads looked good in the print ads and are rather sweet together in what was the last Perkins movie where the actor didn’t carry any baggage. This is because Story opened in April of 1960 — a little less than three months before the New York premiere of Psycho, which had its own way with a shower.