• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:September 20, 2021

Julia: The Girl Who Went Out on a Limb


juliaWhen Vanessa Redgrave was Oscar-nominated for this film, she faced heavy criticism from the Jewish Defense League, an organization whose objective is to fight anti-Semitism in America, but it has often resorted to violence and terrorism and been labeled a hate group. They didn’t like Redgrave because she had helped fund a documentary that argued in favor of creating a Palestinian state. The Oscar ceremony was picketed by these people, but Redgrave wasn’t afraid to turn political as she received her award, saluting the struggle against nazism during the war, but also attacking the “small bunch of Zionist hoodlums” who had tried to intimidate Oscar voters. In the end, Redgrave turned out to be a brave “Julia” in real life as well.

Radicalized in Europe
Lillian and Julia spend much of their childhood together, the latter raised by her wealthy grandparents. As adults, Julia goes to Europe to study and is radicalized, becoming ever more involved in the fight against fascism and nazism, totalitarian ideologies that are quickly gaining ground on the continent. Meanwhile, Lillian gets to know famed author Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), begins a stormy relationship and tries to write a play.

Over the years, Lillian hears sporadically from Julia and the uncertainty over her friend’s safety is unnerving. Eventually, Lillian goes to Europe herself and is drawn into the organized resistance against the Nazis…

Controversial background
The reality behind this story was controversial. The film was based in part on Hellman’s book “Pentimento” where she paints a portrait of a “Julia” who gave up everything to fight nazism. Later, a psychiatrist called Muriel Gardiner claimed to have been the inspiration for the character, which Hellman denied. But she never identified who the real-life Julia was, and the filmmakers eventually came to believe that she never existed, Zinnemann going so far as saying that Hellman was a “brilliant writer” but a “phony character”.

In the end though, it doesn’t matter if Julia was invented or not. Hellman’s story and this film turn her into a symbol of all those people who sacrificed their lives fighting against Hitler’s oppression, and it’s an unforgettable one. In Zinnemann’s hands, Julia is a haunting figure. Clues to her character are provided throughout with dream-like flashbacks to when she and Lillian were young, key moments that show how daring Julia was already as a girl and what a role model she became, the one who dared go out on a limb. The film primarily follows Lillian on her quest to find Julia and turns into quite a nail-biter as she agrees to smuggle money through Nazi Germany to Moscow.

Not only Redgrave won an Oscar, Robards did too; the former (sweet and stubborn) is a strong reason why Julia becomes memorable, but the latter is not in the movie enough to make that much of an impact. Jane Fonda gives the film’s strongest performance as Lillian, always ready to defend a woman she loves against those who lazily view Julia as some dreamy-eyed “commie” gallivanting in Europe. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe gives this film a glamorous look, but there’s a lot of anxiety and darkness underneath; its sadness is emphasized by Georges Delerue’s discreet music score.

Julia became Zinnemann’s last great film, touching, and with a feminist message as well. Somewhat reminiscent of his earlier The Nun’s Story (1959), which also had a female character eventually choosing to join the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, this one has survived to a greater extent as a classic. 

Julia 1977-U.S. 118 min. Color. Produced by Richard Roth. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Screenplay: Alvin Sargent. Story: Lillian Hellman. Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe. Music: Georges Delerue. Cast: Jane Fonda (Lillian Hellman), Vanessa Redgrave (Julia), Jason Robards (Dashiell Hammett), Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook, Rosemary Murphy… Meryl Streep.

Trivia: Streep’s first film. Nicholson was allegedly first cast as Hammett; Faye Dunaway, Barbra Streisand and Julie Christie were allegedly considered for the part of Julia.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Supporting Actor (Robards), Adapted Screenplay. Golden Globes: Best Actress (Fonda), Supporting Actress (Redgrave). BAFTA: Best Film, Actress (Fonda), Screenplay, Cinematography.

Last word: “All I had to do with Vanessa [Redgrave], and this was the second time I’d worked with her, was have an hour’s conversation about the character, in my office […] And after that we hardly ever talked on the set. She just went ahead and did it and she was so good that I used to forget to say ‘cut’, because I felt I was a spectator. Jane [Fonda] works in a different way. She has a marvelous quality – she can cry at will in quantity. She can give you buckets or drops and whenever you want. She is really fantastic, but with a totally different approach and it was utterly fascinating to see those two women together.” (Zinnemann, “Fred Zinnemann: Interviews”)



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