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Klute (1971)

April 21st, 2008 · 5 Comments

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Synopsis
A soft spoken but unwavering police officer from rural Pennsylvania named John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is compelled to investigate the disappearance of his best friend Tom Gruneman. The FBI claims that Gruneman led “a Jekyll and Hyde existence” and wrote several obscene letters to a call girl in New York before vanishing. Klute has no experience in missing persons work and has never even been to New York, but a friend of the family (Charles Cioffi) says of Klute, “He’s a friend, he’s interested and he cares.”

Klute makes contact with the call girl, Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), who has no desire to help him. She has a humiliating acting audition and then pays a visit to her psychiatrist, confused over why she still wants to pick up the phone and turn tricks. Her psychiatrist has no answers for her. She asks Bree why she does what she does. “I came to enjoy it because it made me feel good. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, it made me feel that I had some control over myself, that I had some control over my life.”

After being followed all day, Bree invites Klute up to her apartment. She’s unable to recall Gruneman from hundreds of other clients and has no idea where “some guy from Cabbageville” might be. She reveals that she is being harassed by weird hang-up calls at night. She also has the feeling that she’s being watched. Going on the theory it could be Gruneman still hanging around, Klute takes up residence in Bree’s building. The two become intimate, while threats from Bree’s stalker become more and more ominous.

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Production history
Alan J. Pakula had met Jane Fonda in 1969 to discuss a project her agent was interested in having Pakula direct. His heart wasn’t in the material and nothing came of it. Weeks later, Warner Bros. sent Pakula a first draft screenplay by Andy Lewis & Dave Lewis called Klute. It concerned a New York call girl who takes a small town cop from Pennsylvania into her world so he can locate a missing friend. The only actress Pakula could see in the lead role was Fonda. He sent her the script while she was in New York promoting They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

According to Pakula, “Then I flew to New York after she read the script and she said, ‘Well, why do you want to do this? This could get awful cheap, call girl and all that stuff.’ And I said, ‘Because I think you’d be wonderful in it and I think that it’s a remarkably written character. I think there are things in the story that need work but the character is there now and the rest we can work on.’” But the studio wasn’t interested in casting Fonda. When Pakula refused to consider anyone else, he was taken off the project.

Barbra Streisand was offered the role of Bree, but found the script “silly” and turned it down. She later admitted that if she’d known Pakula was going to be directing her, she’d have said yes. When Warner Bros. was unable to attract anyone else, they settled on Pakula and Fonda. With Donald Sutherland in the title role, Klute went before the cameras in July 1970, shooting exteriors for Bree’s apartment on West 43rd Street and interiors in the now defunct Filmways Studios in Manhattan.

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The production manager arranged for Fonda to research her role with prostitutes, but the actress became nervous when none of the pimps at the after hours clubs tried to solicit her. She felt she was wrong for the part and begged Pakula to fire her. The director did restructure the schedule to ease Fonda into the heavier scenes, including those with her character’s psychiatrist, which were improvised. Her performance won Fonda an Academy Award for Best Actress, and today, is generally considered the role of her career.

Opinion
There have been lots of detectives and lots of hookers, but few with the perceptive grace of Donald Sutherland’s Klute, and none with the steel and the vulnerability Jane Fonda invests in Bree, which is one of the most complex studies in feminism ever brought to the screen. While the mystery behind the missing friend is the least interesting business of the film, Klute has endured as a masterpiece due to the work of its lead actors, and its atmosphere, which conjures a mood of gothic dread unmatched by some of the best horror movies.

The film’s claustrophobic lighting – courtesy cinematographer Gordon Willis, alias “the Prince of Darkness” – has found its way into countless urban thrillers, most notably those directed by David Fincher, while the musical score by Michael Small is positively spine tingling. Klute is not an easy movie to watch with the lights off. Pakula wastes little time burdening the audience with plot device and focuses instead on the tense, nervous and alienated moods of this couple, as well as the underbelly of the fascinating world they inhabit.

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Pete Croatto at filmcritic.com writes, “If you want proof at how a great cinematographer can make an average movie better, rent Klute, the 1971 mystery starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. Nobody utilizes the dark better than Gordon Willis. He used it in Manhattan to establish a romantic mood, and in Klute (as he later did in 1993’s Malice) it adds an element of terror that a weak storyline never provides.”

“Let’s turn or attention to Commie traitor Jane’s film. This is a good movie and certainly worth the critical praise it has received. Commie traitor Jane is mysteriously at home portraying a whore whom has difficulty seeing the trouble brewing around her. She certainly deserves the Oscar that wasn’t taken back by the amoral MPAA once she stabbed our country in the back,” spouts Scott Nehring at Nehring the Edge.

Harold Gervais at DVD Verdict writes, “Great films have a way of sneaking up on a person. They announce their presence not in a showy way but rather in the moments after the credits have rolled and a person is left sitting there considering what was just watched. Great films beg to be watched again. Klute is just such a movie. One of the highlights from the 1970s, Klute turns out to be a film for the ages.”

“Bree Daniels. Girl on the brink. Somewhere among her clientele is a freak who murders call girls. And a wholly incredible cop who insists her life is worth saving. ” View the spooky theatrical trailer for Klute.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Paranoia · Prostitute · Psychoanalysis · Unconventional romance · Woman in jeopardy

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chuck // Apr 22, 2008 at 5:40 am

    I need to revisit this picture, I loved it a few years ago, particularly Sutherland’s performance, but don’t remember it well for some reason. Ialso recall a particularly strong scene between Fonda and a client near the beginning of the picture.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Apr 22, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Chuck: Jane Fonda is strong all the way through this, from her scenes at the psychiatrist’s office near the beginning of the picture to the climax where she figures out she’s probably not going to make it out of the room she’s in alive. Sutherland’s character is a perfect complement to what she does and he is very very good, but Fonda is a revelation. For anyone studying David Fincher, Klute would probably be the first lesson of class. Thanks for commenting!

  • 3 piccolaret // Mar 3, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Very wonderful movie even after all this time ! Pakula perfectly manages the different elements: the script (a little bit complex), the photo of NYC, lights, decors, music, sets, the end also. The poisonous atmosphere is totally convincing. What a casting too: Sutherland, ambiguous, seducing, and Fonda, real and gorgeous, impressive and destroyed. Realy top. A movie to see and see again. Just a lesson.

  • 4 John Bessa // Dec 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    What I think everybody misses is that this film, in its context, is in with Laurence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago. The lenses and film were the best–bokeh to die for.

    While old-school NYC isn’t the Arabian desert or the Russian tundra, it is where I grew up, so…

  • 5 Michael // Jan 20, 2011 at 4:05 am

    I did enjoy every single minute of this movie which seems to be a blue print for all the “amour fou” relations in the years to come. The sound of the telephone and the piano along with lots of scenes shoot the dark are creating a chilling atmosphere. Loved Donald Sutherland vulcanesc facial expression and Fondas powerfully eloquent dominance over her paying clients.

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