9 to 5

  • Title:  9 to 5
  • Director:  Colin Higgins
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Cast:  Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Region 1, NTSC

Another bought it for a bargain price DVD, and I wasn’t sure how well it would stand up. However, this movie is still quite, quite funny. The comedy really comes from the characters, and expresses how three different women attempt to deal with the world’s worst boss — eventually getting even, as well as improving the lives of everyone in their office.

The characters are: Violet, the hard-working secretary played to perfection by Lily Tomlin. She’s a widow with four kids and has been at Consolidated the longest, 12 years, and has applied for promotion.

Doralee, played by Dolly Parton, the boss Frank Hart’s (Dabney Coleman) vivacious secretary, who despite her good looks and skin-tight sweaters and dresses is loyal to her husband.

And Judy, played by Jane Fonda, who’s newly divorced and never worked a day in her life.

The film begins by following Judy as she starts at Consolidated — meeting Violet, Doralee, a few of the other secretaries, the boss, Mr. Hart, and Roz — the boss’s tell-it-all spy. Judy has a few difficulties, notably with a really large Xerox machine, but gradually starts to fit in.

Then the fun starts. Violet goes to Hart to check on her promotion and finds out he didn’t recommend her because “he needs a man in that position” and the man he promoted had less seniority “but he has a family to support”. Remember – Violet has four kids — she’s understandably ticked-off. During the fight, he calls in Doralee, and Violet lets it slip that everyone knows he’s sleeping with her. This, however, is news to Doralee, who’s been faithful to her husband. She has put up with the pinches, being slapped on the rear, and being chased around the desk because she “needs this job” but she threatens Hart that if he ever spreads lies like that about her again, she’ll “change him from a rooster to a hen with one shot” (one of the great lines of the film) with the gun she keeps in her purse.

Meanwhile, Judy is standing next to one of the other secretaries, who is packing up her desk with a guard at her shoulder — she’s been fired for talking about her salary. She tells Judy that she had wanted to spend more time with her kids anyway, but she’s clearly upset. Judy is angered by all this and becomes determined to “fight the good fight” and do something because the way the other secretary was treated isn’t right.

Violet, Doralee, and Judy end up at a nearby bar, get drunk, then go to one of the girls’ houses where they proceed to smoke a joint Violet took from her son, get very silly, and amongst a spread of a lot of food – fantasize about how they’d do-in their boss, Mr. Hart. Judy fantasies about being a big-game hunter, with Hart as the game. Violet fantasies about something straight out of fairy tale, with animated animals, herself as Snow White, and her poisoning Hart, followed by the liberation of all the secretaries who are chained to their typewriters (which is a great scene). Doralee fantasizes about treating Frank exactly as he treated her — in a completely sexist, harassing way, even commenting on his “buns” and “package”, before hog-tying him like in a rodeo and tying him to a spit.

The next day, Violet ends up having to run errands, including shopping, during her lunch hour… she comes back and is complaining to another secretary in the coffee room. Not completely paying attention to what she’s doing, Violet stirs the rat poison she’s bought for home, into Hart’s coffee instead of “skinny and sweet” his preferred artificial sweetener. (All the way through the film — he’d been insisting she get him coffee, which she does, grudgingly). Then Hart, in his office, arguing and bullying someone on the phone the way he bullies “his girls” in the office, not paying attention to what he’s doing, goes for the coffee, leans back in his chair, and the chair collapses, causing him to knock himself out. (The trouble with the chair has also occurred several times earlier in the film). Doralee goes to the hospital with the unconscious Hart.

Meanwhile, Violet realizes what she’d done, accidentally, she and Judy go to the hospital. Hart’s fine, and although the doctor wants to take X-rays to check him out, he refuses, referring to doctors as con artists who just take his money. (Yeah, this guy’s a jerk all right). As he takes off, a cardiac arrest comes in — and a bit of a farce develops, as Judy, Doralee, and Violet overhear the doctor telling the cops the guy is dead and was poisoned, and Violet steals the body — only to discover later it was the wrong one and they then have to return it to the hospital.

The next day, Hart’s back in the office with a little bump on the head. Judy, Violet, and Doralee gossip about their misadventure the night before, and are over-heard by Roz — who tells Hart everything she over-hears (she was the one who got the one woman canned for discussing salary). Hart gets Doralee in his office and threats to report her and Violet to the police unless Doralee provides him with sexual favors. Doralee explodes, pulls one phone cord from the phone, pulls the other phone from the wall, ties up Hart, and has Judy come in to watch him, while she searches for Violet. By the time Violet and Doralee get back, Judy has taken Doralee’s gun and fired at Hart a couple of times (missing by a mile) to keep him from escaping after she’s been sweet-talked into untying him. Violet, tho’ a bit panicked, decides they will have to hold onto Hart — they take him to his empty house (his wife is on a cruise, by herself), and try to figure out what to do.

The second half of the movie — the three hold onto Hart, taking turns watching him. Doralee runs interference at the office and between her and Violet they handle anything that comes up. Roz is sent off to a foreign language school to get her out of their hair. (The three are waiting for some invoices to prove Hart stole and sold equipment). Gradually as the six weeks, they need to get proof of Hart’s misconduct pass, they make changes — allowing personal items on desks, painting the office brighter colors with brighter fabrics everywhere, opening a daycare center, allowing flex hours, allowing job-sharing, and even helping employees through an alcoholic rehab program. But, unknown to them — Hart has gotten free when his wife returns home early — and he’s replaced the missing merchandise.  He’s about to exact his revenge — when the chairman of the board, whom no one ever sees, shows up. Looking like Col. Sanders, the guy is impressed that Hart has increased efficiency by 20 percent in six weeks. However, he tells Hart, “That equal pay thing has got to go — let’s not get too crazy.” Hart’s promoted out of the women’s hair, and Violet, Judy and Doralee celebrate “the beginning” with champagne.  The end credits include an explanation of what happens to each of the four main characters.

What’s interesting about 9 to 5 thirty years later is what has and has not changed in the world of working women who are secretaries, admin assistants, and office workers. Whereas a boss who was so blatantly sexist, harassing, and obnoxious would probably swiftly be fired for his behavior from most offices — minor amounts of harassment are still common. And although it’s hard to imagine an office that doesn’t allow coffee cups and personal items on desks — Where are the daycare centers? The number of businesses providing daycare for employees has actually decreased since 1980 rather than increased. Concepts such as flexible hours (to some extent) are fairly common but job sharing in the Corporate World is still a virtually unknown concept — if one has to work part-time for whatever reason (going to school, taking care of kids and family, taking care of an elderly parent, etc) — the only jobs available are low-paying, low-status jobs where one gets little to no respect.

Watching the movie  9 to 5 — I wasn’t sure how well it would stand up. However, because it’s essentially a character comedy it still works. It’s still funny and fun. The farce elements and physical comedy also still work. Overall, the fashions (or lack of  fashion) don’t really matter — and actually the different look of each of  the three main characters adds to their character — Judy’s look is soft, fluffy, and out-of-date for even the 80s – because she’s never worked and is wearing what she thinks an office worker should wear. Doralee wears tight dresses not to consciously advertise her figure but probably because she finds them comfortable, pretty, and professional enough for the office. Violet actually dresses the most professionally, often with a blazer and skirt — but occasionally wears something a little nicer, such as the Japanese print wrap jacket — something a little more noticeable that was probably a gift. The IBM Selectric typewriters actually had me nostalgic — I learned to type (not keyboard but type) on one of those in junior high. The dictaphone is something I’ve never personally used, and I have no idea how to take shorthand, but those are office/secretary skills that might actually still be in use — especially for medical and legal secretaries. Overall, the film was fun to watch again. One of the best points about 9 to 5 is it is not strident, it’s funny, thus making it much, much easier to watch than, say, if Michael Moore had produced a documentary about how working women are mis-treated in the work place. Again, an enjoyable and fun film.

This film also has a awesome theme song — one I love to blast on my Ipod (which is hooked into a device which broadcasts the music through my car radio) when driving home from my 8 to 5 office job!

  • Recommendation:  See It and Rent It.
  • Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
  • Next Film:  The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai (Across the 8th Dimension)