Judge Dennis Prince might tolerate a tyrannical boss if he could actually work 9 to 5; today's 24x7 work culture has him ready to O.D. on Skinny 'n Sweet.
Getting even is a full-time job.
It had all the markings of a simple feminist outburst, a tepid comedy of she vs. he in the high-rise workplace. Strangely enough, director Colin Higgins' seemingly seething "manbash," Nine to Five, was received as anything but. Sure, it pits the beleaguered broads against the bastard boss and paints the bombastic brute in the most acrid colors available, but men loved the film, too! In what has become a reasonably "classic" film of a quarter century ago, Fox Home Video finally sweetens up this 1980 office vengeance tale in a very respectable special edition, save for the actual name of the damned thing: Nine to Five—Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition. Who thought that would be clever? Must have been a man, huh?
Facts of the Case
Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda, Barbarella), recently divorced by her two-timing husband, is entering the work force for the first time and has found an assignment in the secretarial pool at Consolidated Companies, Inc. The aspiring yet acidic Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin, All of Me) immediately takes Judy under her wing and guides her through the perils of the workplace, beginning with the severely abrasive and condescending boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman, War Games). If Hart's dictatorial and demeaning style weren't enough, there's also his tremendously buxom secretary, Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), who, rumor has it, is "bangin' the boss." After Hart skips over Violet for a much-deserved promotion and is exposed for starting the rumor of the non-existent tryst with the genuinely sweet Doralee, Judy sees the cretin for what he is and joins the other two in an evening of fun and fantasy as they speculate upon the best method to do in the draconian dictator. Hart falls ill unexpectedly, and Violet fears she's accidentally poisoned the boss: "It looks just like Skinny 'n Sweet…except for the little skull and crossbones on the label." When Hart learns of this, he proceeds to blackmail the trio, sparking a confrontation with the three secretaries, who believe they've uncovered a dirty scheme the boss has been masterminding.
Despite its clearly felonious bent, Nine to Five successfully comes off as a playful workplace romp thanks to the continual over-the-top situations and surreal nature of the proceedings. It's practically innocent in its approach and successfully rallies the sentiments of oppressed office underdogs everywhere. Credit the late Colin Higgins's superb script (co-written with Patricia Resnick) and his ability as a director to maintain careful control over the zany goings-on. Its impact was made all the more satisfying by its method of promoting the pretty faces of Fonda, Parton, and Tomlin in its ad campaign, then delivering a sucker punch to unsuspecting audiences who howled at the severity of the secretaries' vengeance. Had the actors not been allowed to play their roles to comedic extremes, the picture might have otherwise come off as a spiteful tale of brooding retribution.
The ensemble cast works perfectly throughout the picture, Fonda effectively receding into a rather mousy role, constantly upstaged by the excellent confrontations between Tomlin and Coleman. First-timer Parton does an exceptional job with her big-screen premiere. Seemingly knowing she'd have to work might hard to get audiences to redirect their sightlines above her neckline, she ultimately memorized the entire shooting script, every one else's line as well as her own. Of course, fans of the film also cite Elizabeth Wilson's precise portrayal of Roz, the office spy and suck-up to Hart, as a pitch-perfect rendition of a universally reviled office personality.
No doubt, this 1980 romp shows its age, largely in the office technology of IBM Selectric typewriters, late-model dicta-phones, and the gargantuan Xerox 9400 photocopier. Surprisingly, the clothing and hairstyles aren't so obnoxious, so by and large we can enjoy a latter-day viewing without cringing too much. However, there is the whole "Maui Wowie" sequence in which the three ladies get stoned thanks to a blunt offered up by Violet's teenage son. The ensuing "old-fashioned ladies' pot party" feels a bit uncomfortable in today's uptight, drug-sensitive mentality. This reminds us of a time when "getting loaded" was considered commonplace and posed only a minor—albeit rather acceptable—social infraction. Watching it with teens today, we adults have a bit of explaining to do regarding why the ladies should be shown having so much fun doing "something so wrong." Gulp.
And speaking of loaded, this new 25th anniversary special edition of Nine to Five is fully packed in a way that will have fans likely as giddy as the three heroines. It starts off with a newly remastered anamorphic transfer, framed at the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image looks stunning, really, and shows that considerable care has been taken in upgrading the visual quality from the inferior bare-bones release of several years ago. The source material isn't pristine, mind you, and you will see occasional film dirt and some graininess. However, the bright colors of the Consolidated office's carpeting and especially Violet's garishly glorious lipstick practically jump out at you. The contrast is well managed as are the black levels, though most of the picture takes place in a fluorescent glow. The audio is a bit of a disappointment, sadly, as we're only offered Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix (as well as the film's original 1.0 mono mix). It's curious why a 5.1 mix wasn't whipped up although the 2.0 track does perform adequately enough to underscore the on-screen fun. The dialogue is always clear and easy to understand.
As for extras, here's where the folks at Fox really step up. First, there's a fun commentary where Fonda, Tomlin, Parton, and producer Bruce Gilbert get together (seemingly over a conference call of sorts) to remark and reminisce about the picture. Fonda often takes a lead role in submitting points of discussion, yet it's Parton who really injects true humor and sweetness into the entire proceeding. Tomlin is pleasantly discreet and often demure in her comments. Poor Gilbert can hardly get a word in edgewise as the three ladies quickly get rolling and demonstrate why their three characters maintained such excellent chemistry throughout the film. Next, you'll find a fun 25-minute featurette, Nine @ 25, which includes interviews and retrospectives from the film's stars, including Dabney Coleman, who was sadly absent from the commentary track, and producer Gilbert. It's rather a feel-good piece that doesn't reveal much new about the production though it's fun to watch just the same. Then, there are ten deleted scenes that are actually quite interesting, book-ended by the material that made the final cut, giving us a chance to see exactly where they were originally intended to appear—a nice touch. Remembering Colin Higgins is a nicely respectful look back at the work of the writer/director. A short gag-reel is included that's fun but in quite rough form. The film's theatrical trailer is here, too, in non-anamorphic presentation; it's a fun piece comprised of office footage and voiceover not seen in the actual picture, reminding us of the days when a film's key sequences weren't given away before we could actually get to see the picture itself. The only real throwaway here, perhaps, is the theme song karaoke feature where you can sing along with Dolly as you view a montage of scenes from the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, Nine to Five isn't without its faults, the major offense coming by way of sequences that run a bit overlong. While the secretaries' fantasies of offing Hart are fun, they do tend to drag a just a bit. And, the point at which the three are in a final standoff with Hart to the point of abduction and imposed restraint does teeter on absurdity. All told, though, the film is fun and the actors clearly had fun with it.
Fox Home Video is to be commended for their fine treatment of this potentially "cult classic" affair. Fans of the film will certainly be satisfied with the treatment of the feature as well as the generous load of extras, too. If you own the previous DVD incarnation, pitch it and get this one instead—it's highly recommended.
Not guilty. Case dismissed. Let's all pop over to Charlie's, now, for a drink!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
• Cast and Crew Commentary
Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.