He'd never make anyone's list of great '70s auteurs, but say a special prayer of thanks for the late Colin Higgins, writer of Harold And Maude and Silver Streak, and writer-director of Foul Play and 9 To 5. His scripts were soggily constructed and his comic sense was shticky, but Higgins had an innate feeling for how to make '70s audiences uncomfortable enough to laugh nervously, but not so uncomfortable that they'd flee the theater. In 9 To 5 particularly, Higgins confronted sexual inequality in the workplace, casting Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin as secretaries who get so fed up with their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss Dabney Coleman that they kidnap and imprison him. Higgins peppers the story with some fairly sadistic slapstick and an obligatory "the ladies smoke a joint" scene, which would all be subversive if nearly every other comedy of the time weren't equally libertine.
Seen again in its new DVD edition, 9 To 5 is disappointingly flabby. Parton is fun to watch as the bombshell everyone wrongly assumes to be the office slut, but Fonda and Tomlin play too much to type as the meek divorcée and the bitter feminist. And though it's always funny to hear Coleman mutter "Goddamn it," he's really not in the movie that much. Also, Higgins pads the piece out with interminable fantasy sequences, and a long mistaken-identity routine that's both pointless and unfunny.
Still, the movie is surprisingly smart about the politics of the glass ceiling, which keeps Tomlin in a pink-collar supervisor position while every man she trains gets promoted past her. The way Coleman asserts his masculinity with phrases like "cut the balls off the competition," and the way our heroic trio works together to sculpt a worker's paradisecomplete with flex-time and day-care facilitiesserves as an effective summary of the era's hot-button issues. But perhaps most importantly, 9 To 5 freezes forever the look of an office circa 1980, with its room-filling copy machines and Rolodexes. That's the kind of zeitgeist-check that Hollywood movies often do best.
Key features: Deleted scenes, a featurette, and a chaotic, self-congratulatory commentary track featuring Fonda, Parton, Tomlin, and producer Bruce Gilbert.