Directed by FRANCINE PARKER
Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and some colleagues spent the 1971 Christmas season touring military bases around the Pacific rim with what Miss Fonda called "a political vaudeville," a jaunty traveling cabaret intended to stand in marked contrast to Bob Hope's annual earsplitting chorus of Jingo Bells. This documentary is a record of the trip as well as a kind of pamphlet on celluloid, a tract against the war in Indochina and against the brutalizing and dehumanizing effects of military service.
F.T.A. (which translates euphemistically as "Free the Army") works better as propaganda than as entertainment. Except for a bit with Donald Sutherland sportscasting the war as if the combat zone were a huge football field, the skits are heavyhanded and almost devoid of humor, the songs sing-along antiques from the coffeehouse era. At one point, reading a passage from Dalton Trumbo's antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun, Sutherland seems paralyzed with moral fervor.
The soldiers, who all seem to get a kick out of the show regardless, enjoy the rap sessions afterward even more. The film's many long discussions involving young men who are angry, desperate or bewildered are the source of its real strength. It is the soldiers far more than the performers who touch us and shake us. It may well have been the intention of the F.T.A. troupe to serve above all as catalysts, to tap and reflect the turmoil to which these soldiers bear eloquent witness. If so, then Fonda, Sutherland and their companions did a memorable job. ∎Jay Cocks