Monday, October 1, 2012

Clued In: "Klute" (1971)

Jane Fonda won her first Academy Award for her role here as a prostitute. Say what you will about her politics, she certainly had screen presence.

Donald Sutherland is Klute, the title small town detective from Pennsylvania. His best friend, Tom, disappears and a year later he is hired by a mutual rich friend to go to New York City to find the missing man. He stumbles upon Jane Fonda, a wannabe actress and call girl. She may have been with Tom but cannot remember- too many johns and faces. Sutherland begins watching Fonda, and someone begins watching both of them. Soon, Fonda warms up to Sutherland and the two begin slumming the seedy underground looking for other people who may have come into contact with Tom.

I do not want to reveal too much, as this is a mystery, but eventually Fonda and Sutherland discover the killer's identity. A plan to trap the person backfires, and Fonda is terrorized in a garment factory in the film's best scene. Alan J. Pakula died in a freak car accident a couple of years ago. This was a shame, and a great loss to the film world. I would rank "Klute" right behind "All the President's Men" and "Sophie's Choice," as one of his best films.

Although the film is named "Klute," the obvious focus here is on Fonda. While she is good here, I was a little miffed by the constant back and forth in the screenplay. Is this a murder mystery or a character study of Fonda? Scenes in the call girl's therapist's office are offset with scenes involving the investigation, and the two sides never seem to merge together. Both branches of the story are interesting, maybe they would have made two good but different movies. This New York City is not the city we know today. There is garbage on the streets, the apartments are dark and disgusting, and "heroin chic" does not exist. A couple of night club scenes are dated, as is Fonda's slang dialogue.

The villain here is a psychopath, but not the serial killer we all know and hate to love today. The fact that the killer does not have a body count numbering in the dozens and weird Hannibal Lecter-type behavior makes them all the more terrifying. There are no murders shown onscreen, which is almost refreshing.

However, watch for the scene where Fonda listens to an audio tape recording of an acquaintance's horrific murder. Fonda's reaction is incredible, as is Pakula's skill of letting sound (and not gory images) let us know what is happening. Also, crafty viewers will catch Veronica Hamel and Jean Stapleton in early roles, and Roy Scheider is slimy as Fonda's former pimp. "Klute" was an original screenplay, and would have made a good detective series, either in TV or novel form.

I would have liked to see more Sutherland and the mechanics of his investigation, but the ending scene lets us know this is all Fonda's film. A missed opportunity, but still a good film. (* * * *) out of five stars.