“....Lately, however, Fonda has been deepening and freshening again…. [I]n three very different pictures in the last two years, her roles were well-enough written and she showed us superior acting. In the pastry puff Fun With Dick and Jane, she bubbled…. In two current films she gives performances excellent in themselves and all the more impressive because they can be seen in tandem. Their differences make each one seem stronger.
“Both, unfortunately, are in questionable pictures, but if you're interested in acting, they are very much worth seeing for Fonda. In Comes a Horseman…, she plays a woman who inherited a small ranch and, with the help of one old man, is trying to keep it going against various odds. The moment she appears, she is that woman, coming to us out of a life of physical labor, hard skill earned with difficulties, hard principles defended with every nerve. Not a gesture, not an intonation, not a tremor of her presence comes from anywhere but the woman’s being: these are no actor’s characteristics studied and acquired, they are the natural results of a character created.
“And Fonda is in California Suite…. The moment she appears, her physical silhouette--I don't mean her dress, of course--is so different from Comes a Horseman that there's a small shock of fright, as if the transformation by art had something supernatural about it….
“I haven't seen such an accidental juxtaposition of two differentiated fine performances by an American film actor since 1972, in Paul Newman's films Sometimes a Great Notion and Pocket Money. As with Newman, in Fonda's two roles there are no limps, no wigs, no broad accents, no stock-company trickery. Just (just!) creative imagination and the talent to embody it. For a number of years in the 1960s, I conducted a series about film on the PBS station in New York, and sometimes I would do a program on acting, with clips from two or three performances by the same actor. I don't often miss doing that program nowadays, but I wish I could do one with these Fonda films. Besides the pleasure it would give, it might possibly also do a little--o wan hope--to offset the rubbish that gets published about film acting, about these two performances especially.
“I can't quite contend that Fonda has become the first-rate artist I thought and still think is in her. For one point, she has been lax in her choice of scripts. For another, she has missed playing some of the great roles that only the theater could give her…. [S]he ought to let one medium feed the other in her work. Still she is the preeminent actress on the American screen. We have other good ones--for examples, Ellen Burstyn and the lately arrived Meryl Streep. Fonda, further on (she has already finished two more films), could move still further, could surprise us unsurprisingly. That is, she could move to unforeseen new strengths that nevertheless grow out of what we know about her.
“Futile Question No. ????. With actresses like these on hand, how can Diane Keaton still be taken seriously? How can her parlor-act broken-arc comedy and facile hysterics not be perceived for what they are?”
New Republic, date ?
“One way to pass the time while watching a turkey with big people in it is to wonder why they agreed to do it. Not that big people always choose infallibly: Jane Fonda’s career is hardly unfluctuated. Still, why did she agree to do this incohesive, luridly melodramatic script? Or Jason Robards? Or the director, Alan J. Pakula?….
“None of this would matter much, it would be just one more (apparent) botch of a possibly good idea, except that Fonda gives her best performance in a long time. The lolling on her talent that I’ve sensed in recent work is jolted away here by her insistence on creating a stubborn, strong, quixotic woman, a credible Westerner who lives by self-reliance. Curious, too, that Fonda should do her most galvanized work in years in the role of a conservative! And it’s wasted. Pity.”
The New Republic, November 25, 1978