If I were going to teach a film and literature class, I would choose to make a negative example of Jane Fonda's portrayal of Nora in the 1973 film version of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey, and a positive example of Claire Bloom's portrayal of Nora in Patrick Garland''s version, also filmed in 1973.
Jane Fonda does not do justice to Nora Helmer's true character. In the play, Nora begins as a truly obnoxious character. She jumps around doing cute little tricks for her husband Torvald (David Warner). She caters to his every little desire and lets him call her stupid pet names like "little squirrel" or "little skylark." Her character is supposed to be irritating to the audience. Nora is supposed to be depicted as a little dolly for her husband to play with in the beginning of the film.
Jane Fonda is not a very good choice for this role. Everything about Nora and Torvald's relationship has to be toned down in order to suit Fonda's raging feminist outlook. People do not treat Jane Fonda like a little dolly. She does not seem like the weaker party in the beginning of the film as the role calls for her to be. It seems that she took this role simply to show off her feminism. Her whole presence seems to violate the very idea of Ibsen's play.
The entire tone of the film seems to be anesthetized. The characters (Fonda and David Warner) do not seem real. When Torvald finds out about Nora's debt and forgery *****correct?***** and is supposed to explode with rage, he does not seem to do so. He gets angry, but it seems more as though he is blowing off steam than condemning his wife. I felt absolutely no emotion during this scene. It almost seemed as though she really had no excuse for leaving him at the end. Where is the catharsis the audience is looking for? Not in Joseph Losey's version, I assure you.
However, Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins would be positive examples to demonstrate for a film and literature class. Unlike Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom is animated and clever. She does not expect the film to fit her needs, but rather she fits the needs of the film.
In the beginning of Patrick Garland's 1973 representation of Doll's House, Bloom sets the mood immediately when she actually jumps around making chirping squirrel noises to amuse Torvald (Anthony Hopkins). I found this to be unbelievably irritating. No self-respecting woman does this sort of thing. However, the fact is that Nora is not a self-respecting woman at this point. She is Torvald's pet. Bloom depicts this remarkably well.
Claire Bloom makes Nora's journey from a childlike state to an independent, self-respecting, grown-up woman far better than Fonda does. Fonda never seems to make a realistic transition. That is what makes her performance so dull and emotionless. Bloom, on the other hand, makes the audience sympathetic to her plight. Any good performance will draw the audience in and make them feel something. Bloom and Hopkins do this quite successfully.
The confrontation between Nora and Torvald Helmer is the most powerful part of the film (as it should be). Anthony Hopkins is explosive. When he goes so far as to hit his wife, I actually almost lost my cool. I found myself talking back to the film. This is a sign of good acting. One would not catch anyone hitting Jane Fonda on the big screen!
There is nothing wrong with being assertive, but it is wrong to have too much attitude to do one's job properly. Jane Fonda is guilty of this crime. I cannot respect her as much as I did Claire Bloom. At least Bloom appeared to have a reason for leaving her husband.