Although based on the French sex comic of the same name, Barberella is part of a significant genre of film where an ignorant American plops into decadent and politically corrupt Europe, and amidst much destruction and upheval saves them from themselves. That the naive American is both a ridiculed bumpkin and enduringly heroic is probably a theme Europeans have chewed over without answer. And it would do the Americans some good to understand.
From The Wizard of Oz to Flash Gordon this good-natured simpleton faces tyrants, evil plots, bizarre cultures, and extensive historical backstory, cutting through the confusion with a pure heart and a desire to make friends. Their charisma is infectious, their can-do attitude comes from having never been conquered, and their corn-fed goodlooks certainly help. World War II became the embodiment of this character as GI Joe stormed across Europe, bombing the shit out of history and saving France despite the fact that She preferred to capitulate rather than fight. Europe had a long history of tyrants and racial oppression. It’s the way things were, why resist? But the American’s saw it differently. Enter Barberella who in the midst of destroying Tau Seti and rescuing almost no one, still considers the mission a success!
Jane Fonda was the perfect doe-eyed American trophy-wife for Roger Vadim. She was famous, gorgeous, and manipulatable. Although she later disowned the film and divorced the fillandering Vadim, she has nothing to be ashamed of that Barberella will become her most memorable role. It doesn’t really matter that she wasn’t in on the joke, at 29 her body is the best effect in the film, fantasticly decorated in space-age gogo boots and vacuum molded breast cups. Her near brain-damaged line readings are the fault of a lousy script, and the near-unwatchability of the film is a result of crappy editing, not bad acting. Several stars of the day put in an effort, but not Vadim who must have been absent, high, or just too arrogant to see what a good thing he had going. Barberella could have been iconic, instead it’s a campy bore.