1971/ 2.39:1/ 114 min.
Starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Jane Fonda plays Bree Daniels, the hooker with a heart of glass in 1971’s Klute. The lanky vamp in the shag cut and form-fitting mini-skirt is desired by many but they’ll have to pay a price – that includes John Klute, a small town detective who wants more from Bree than just sex. Director Alan J. Pakula’s stylish murder mystery connects the dots between depression era potboilers, the doomed romanticism of 40’s noirs and in particular the European crime films that riled up 42nd street audiences in the late 60’s and early 70’s – macabrely glamorous entertainments featuring debonair degenerates like the man Klute is searching for.
Klute has left his tiny hometown of Tuscarora to find Tom Gruneman, a friend and erstwhile “family man” who’s gone missing in New York City. An obscene letter supposedly written by the wayward businessman leads Klute to Bree, a call girl desperate to escape “the life.”
Bree’s aspirations are thwarted by an ever-precarious financial state and her ambivalent feelings toward the profession – afraid for the future but hooked on the power she wields over her tricks. Both lonely souls in the big bad city, Bree and Klute engage in a cold war of nerves until a detente is reached with an abrupt and passionate bedroom encounter – sex in the trenches as it were. Meanwhile the shadowy killer keeps an eye on them both while snuffing out an inconvenient trail of witnesses that might lead Klute to his doorstep.
Bree’s job description calls for her to be frequently naked but she’s built up her own kind of armor – that blasé attitude she affects in public isn’t ennui, it’s battle fatigue. There’s still a fighter beneath that shell – each night she tries, mostly in vain, to fix herself, diving into self help books and soul-baring sessions with her shrink (a clever device that allows her to narrate her own mood swings – much like John Garfield’s confessional voiceover in Force of Evil).
Fonda’s portrayal of the damaged but courageous working girl is rightfully praised as one of the great modern performances, an uncanny blend of intuition and insight (it’s hard to believe that the part wasn’t written exclusively for her – in the first weeks of production the apprehensive actress wanted Faye Dunaway to take her place).
That performance wouldn’t seem quite so alive without Donald Sutherland as her sounding board – Klute, a soft spoken cop whose rectitude could be mistaken for timidity has his own hangups – he seems liberated by Bree’s self-proclaimed “fuck it” attitude.
Her loathsome pimp is played by Roy Schneider whose white suits and flared collars are pure Studio 54 – two years later he would enjoy a more audience-friendly role as the aquaphobic cop in Jaws. In Spielberg’s waterlogged thriller the scares jumped up with a wink and a nod – not so in Klute where the terror is deep-rooted in the crystalline high rises and sleazy sex clubs – a contagion spreading through the body politic.
As the first in what would be known as Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” (parts two and three being The Parallax View and All The President’s Men) Klute begins with a close-up of a tape recorder – reminding the audience that if you’re not being watched, you’re probably being listened to.
There’s not a lot of middle ground to Pakula’s technique – he keeps the camera at a distance from his actors, as if he were spying on them with binoculars – or he works in microscopic detail, putting the camera up close and personal – more blatantly invasive than any surreptitious recording.
That camera is manned by Gordon Willis, whose chiaroscuro lighting is the very definition of noir. Like many home video incarnations of the great cinematographer’s work, the colors are muted but evocative and the shadows (and there are a lot of them) are rife with grain (we’re looking at you The Godfather). Klute is no different. Grain or no, Criterion’s transfer for their new Blu ray edition couldn’t be bettered.
Criterion has packed the disc with a number of worthy supplements including Pakula’s sage appearance on a 1986 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, a new mini-documentary on Klute featuring Steven Soderbergh and Annette Insdorf and, the cherry on top, a brand new interview with Fonda conducted by Ileana Douglas.
To those who’ve tuned in to Douglas’ podcast I Blame Dennis Hopper, it’s no surprise to find she’s a warm and canny interviewer – and the supernaturally glamorous Fonda does not disappoint.
Actually there are two cherries on top – tucked into the keepcase is an excellent essay from Mark Harris who, quite rightly, describes Klute as embodying “the transformations and contradictions that defined American cinema at the dawn of one of its most creatively fertile eras.”
The complete list of extras:
• New interview with Jane Fonda conducted by Illeana Douglas
• New documentary about Klute and director Alan J. Pakula by filmmaker Matthew Miele, featuring interviews with film scholar Annette Insdorf, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, and actor Charles Cioffi, along with archival interviews with Pakula
• The Look of Klute, a new interview with writer Amy Fine Collins
• Archival interviews with Pakula on The Dick Cavett Show and Fonda with Midhe MacKenzie – 1973
• Klute in New York, a short documentary made during the shooting of the film
• Excerpts from a 1972 interview with Pakula
Here’s Katt Shea on Klute –