Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another late B movie

Tonight at 10:30 PM ET, the Fox Movie Channel is giving us Nine to Five. Made in 1980, it's one of those movies that would have been a lot of fun as a clean B-comedy several decades earlier, but as a movie isn't so well remembered today.

Jane Fonda stars as Judy Bernly, a woman who just got a divorce and as such is just getting back into the working world after a long time married. She gets a job at the conglomerate Consolidated Companies as a secretary in a big, lifeless office. Judy's immediate supervisor, Violet (Lily Tomlin), is showing her the ropes and letting her know about the myriad of rules and how, in no uncertain terms do you want to violate them: the ultimate boss of the division, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), will come down very hard on you, if not fire you. It doesn't help poor Judy that on her first day, she has an accident with the copying machine.

At any rate, Judy quickly finds out just how much of a jerk Mr. Hart is. He's got his personal assistant Roz (Elizabeth Wilson) spying on the workers, to the point that everybody has to check the stalls in the bathroom to see that they're unoccupied before they'll talk about anything in the bathroom -- she takes notes and sends those notes on to Mr. Hart! Hart expects his employees to do personal favors for him, and everybody in the office knows that he's carrying on with his secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton). Matters eventually come to a head when Hart sends Violet and Judy out to buy a scarf for his wife, and they find that the scarf was actually for Doralee. The three all wind up taking the afternoon off and ending up at the same bar, where they find that Hart is in fact not carrying on an affair with Doralee. He's certainly trying, of course, but she doesn't want it. Violet and Judy find that their dislike of Doralee is misplaced and, when the three go to Doralee's house for a pot party, they discuss their fantasies about how they'd deal with Hart if they could get away with it.

Things go wrong for them, though, when Violet's fantasy about poisoning Hart with rat poison actually comes true: the rat poison box looks like the artificial sweetener box, and she mistakenly puts the rat poison in Hart's coffee. Hart discovers this, though, when he hits his head before he can drink the coffee, and has to be taken to hospital with what isn't a fatal condition. Hart has no qualms about firing the three and making certain they'll spend a long spell in jail. What's a girl to do? Why, kidnap Hart and make him do their bidding! It turns out that Hart has been embezzling money from the firm, and Violet has learned about this. But, she needs information from the home office, which will take a few weeks to arrive, so they'll have to keep custody of Hart for some time. And, get Roz out of the way.

Nine to Five is, as I said, a movie that would have worked well as a B-comedy back in the 30s or 40s. Obviously, it would have to be cleaned up, but it's a movie that's entertaining if filled with unbelievable premises and a bit of a throwaway at the end. All three of the female leads show that they were quite good at comedy. Lily Tomlin, we always knew; Jane Fonda's comedic ability should have been remembered from movies like Sunday in New York. But Dolly Parton doing comedy is a revelation. Is she great? Not particularly, but she's more than competent, and considering that comedy isn't easy, that's a compliment. Also in the cast is Sterling Hayden, who gets a brief scene at the end as the CEO of the company.

As I said at the beginning, Nine to Five isn't so well remembered as a movie. That's probably because, in addition to it being somewhat of a fluff piece, the movie is better remembered for the title song. Dolly Parton sang "Nine to Five" over the opening credits, and it's one of those country/pop songs of the early 1980s that's instantly memorable for its great uptempo melody.

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