Julia (1977 film)


Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Richard Roth
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent
Based on Pentimento
1973 story Julia
by Lillian Hellman
Starring Jane Fonda
Vanessa Redgrave
Jason Robards
Hal Holbrook
Rosemary Murphy
Maximilian Schell
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Walter Murch
Marcel Durham
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 2, 1977 (1977-10-02)
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7.84 million[1]
Box office $20,714,400[2]

Julia is a 1977 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, from a screenplay by Alvin Sargent. It is based on Lillian Hellman's book Pentimento, a chapter of which purports to tell the story of her relationship with an alleged lifelong friend, "Julia," who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II. The film in DeLuxe Color was produced by Richard Roth, with Julien Derode as executive producer and Tom Pevsner as associate producer.

Julia was received positively from the critics and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Fred Zinnemann and Best Actress for Jane Fonda. It ended up winning three awards, Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards, Best Supporting Actress for Vanessa Redgrave, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Alvin Sargent's script. Julia was the first film to win both supporting actor categories since The Last Picture Show six years earlier in 1971, and would be followed by Hannah and Her Sisters nine years later in 1986.


The young Lillian and her friend Julia, daughter of a wealthy family being brought up by her grandparents in the U.S., enjoy a childhood together and an extremely close relationship in late adolescence. Later, while medical student/physician Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) attends Oxford and the University of Vienna and studies with such luminaries as Sigmund Freud, Lillian (Jane Fonda), a struggling writer, suffers through revisions of her play with her mentor and sometime lover, famed author Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards) at a beachhouse.

Later, during the Nazi era, Lillian has become a celebrated playwright, and is invited to a writers' conference in Russia. Julia, having taken on the battle against Nazism, enlists Lillian en route to smuggle money into Nazi Germany to assist the anti-Nazi cause. It is a dangerous mission especially for a Jewish intellectual on her way to Russia.

Lillian departs for Russia via Berlin and the movements of her person, and placement of her possessions (a hat and a box of candy), are carefully guided by compatriots of Julia through border crossings and inspections. In Berlin, Lillian is told to go to a cafe where she finds Julia. They are able to speak only briefly. Julia tells her that the money she has brought will save 500 to 1,000 people. Lillian also learns that Julia has a daughter, Lily, who is living with a baker in Alsace. After Lilian leaves Julia in the cafe and boards the train to Moscow, a man tells her to avoid passing through Germany again after she leaves Russia.

When she reaches London, Lillian is informed that Julia has been killed. The details of her death are shrouded in secrecy. Lillian unsuccessfully looks for Julia's daughter in Alsace. She returns to the United States and is reunited with Dashiel Hammett. She is haunted by her memories of Julia and is distraught over not having found Julia's baby. She is shocked that Julia's family pretends not to remember Lillian, clearly wanting to excise from their memory a daughter who refused to conform at a time when nonconformity could prevent the murder of many innocent people.

The film ends with an image of Lillian Hellman seated in a boat alone, fishing. She reveals in voiceover that she continued to live with Hammett for another 30 years, and outlived him by several more.


Production and veracity controversy

The film was shot on location in England and France. Although Lillian Hellman claimed the story was based on true events that occurred early in her life, the filmmakers later came to believe that most of it was fictionalized. Director Fred Zinnemann would later comment, "Lillian Hellman in her own mind owned half the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway owned the other half. She would portray herself in situations that were not true. An extremely talented, brilliant writer, but she was a phony character, I'm sorry to say. My relations with her were very guarded and ended in pure hatred."[3]

In 1983, New York psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner became involved in the libel suit between Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, when she claimed that she was the character called Julia in Hellman's memoirs, Pentimento (1973), and in the movie Julia based on a chapter of that book. Hellman, who never met Gardiner, claimed that "Julia" was somebody else.[4]

Gardiner wrote that, while she never met Hellman, she had often heard about her from her friend Wolf Schwabacher, who was Hellman's lawyer. In Gardiner's account, Schwabacher had visited Gardiner in Vienna and, after Muriel Gardiner and Joseph Buttinger moved into their house at Brookdale Farm in Pennington, New Jersey in 1940, the house was divided in two with the Gardiner-Buttingers living in one half and Wolf and Ethel Schwabacher in the other for more than ten years.[5]

Many people believe that Hellmann based her story on Gardiner's life. Gardiner's editor cited the unlikelihood that there were two millionaire American women who were medical students in Vienna in the late 1930s.[4]

The 1977 Oscar-winning film Julia was based on the "Julia" chapter of Pentimento. On June 30, 1976, as the film was going into production, Hellman wrote about the screenplay to its producer:[6]

This is not a work of fiction and certain laws have to be followed for that reason...Your major difficulty to me is the treatment of Lillian as the leading character. The reason is simple: no matter what she does in this story–and I do not deny the danger I was in when I took the money into Germany–my role was passive. And nobody and nothing can change that unless you write a fictional and different story...Isn't it necessary to know that I am a Jew? That, of course, is what mainly made the danger.

In a 1979 television interview, author Mary McCarthy, long Hellman's political adversary and the object of her negative literary judgment, said of Hellman that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." Hellman responded by filing a US$2,500,000 defamation suit against McCarthy, interviewer Dick Cavett, and PBS.[7] McCarthy in turn produced evidence she said proved that Hellman had lied in some accounts of her life. Cavett said he sympathized more with McCarthy than Hellman in the lawsuit, but "everybody lost" as a result of it.[7] Norman Mailer attempted unsuccessfully to mediate the dispute through an open letter he published in the New York Times.[8] At the time of her death, Hellman was still in litigation with McCarthy; her executors dropped the suit.[9]

Julia features the first film performances of Meryl Streep and Lisa Pelikan.


The film earned $13,050,000 in North American rentals.[10]

It currently holds a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes as [11] and 7.4 out of 10 stars on IMDB.[12]

The response varied from positive to mixed, usually praising the period setting and acting, but criticizing the script and failure to adequately portray the friendship between the two leads. Variety gave it a positive review, praising Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave as being "dynamite together on the screen," Richard Roth's production as "handsome and tasteful," as well as the period costumes and production design.[13]

Roger Ebert called the film a "fascinating story," but felt the movie suffered from being told by Lillian Hellman's point of view. "The film never really establishes a relationship between the two women," he wrote. "It's awkward, the way the movie has to suspend itself between Julia -- its ostensible subject -- and Lillian Hellman, its real subject." Nonetheless, he gave it two and a half out of three stars.[14]

TV Guide gave it three out of five stars and declared it "Beautifully crafted, nominated for eleven Academy Awards, a big hit at the box office--and a dramatic dud... If you like red nail polish, faux-cynicism, painfully brave smiles and European train stations, Julia may be your kind of cocktail." [15]


Academy Awards:

Academy Award nominations:

After Redgrave was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, the Jewish Defense League objected to her nomination because she had narrated and helped fund a documentary entitled The Palestinian, which supported a Palestinian state. They also picketed the Oscar ceremony.

It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.


  1. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p258
  2. "Julia (1977) (1977)". Box Office Mojo. 1977-10-02. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  3. ''Fred Zinnemann: interviews'', University Press of Mississippi (2005) p156. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  4. 1 2 McDowell, Edwin (April 29, 1983). "New Memoir Stirs 'Julia' Controversy". New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
  5. Muriel Gardiner, Code Name "Mary": Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground (Yale University Press, 1983), xv-xvi
  6. Austenfeld, American Women Writers, pp. 102-03
  7. 1 2 Martinson, Lillian Hellman, pp. 354–56
  8. Norman Mailer,"An Appeal to Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy", nytimes.com, May 11, 1980; accessed December 16, 2011.
  9. "Seeing Mary Plain", nytimes.com, accessed November 25, 2015.
  10. Solomon p 234
  11. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/julia1977/
  12. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076245/
  13. http://variety.com/1976/film/reviews/julia-1200423977/
  14. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/julia-1977
  15. http://www.tvguide.com/movies/julia/review/102928
  16. Marcel Durham is listed as an editor for the film in some credit listings for Julia, including the credits database of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS). However, he is not listed as a nominee for the Academy Award in the AMPAS awards database; see "Academy Awards Database - 50th (1977)". Retrieved 2014-02-19.

External links

Preceded by
The Last Picture Show
Academy Award winner for
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Succeeded by
Hannah and Her Sisters
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