Klute

Released:  1971

Cast:  Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider

Oscar Wins:  Best Actress (Jane Fonda)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Screenplay (Andy Lewis, David E. Lewis)

SUMMARY:  In Pennsylvania, well-to-do executive Tom Gruneman disappears without a trace.  The police find a letter in his office, addressed to a woman named Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda):  Daniels is a high-end prostitute in New York City, and the letter is obscene.  The police are able to learn that Daniels received a few other letters of the same kind, but she doesn’t know what happened to Gruneman.  After six months, the police have hit a dead end, so Gruneman’s fellow executive Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi) asks mutual friend John Klute (Donald Sutherland), a detective, to look into the case.  Klute moves to New York City and moves into an apartment in the basement of Daniels’ building.  He immediately taps her phone and begins following her around town, as she is virtually the only lead in the case.  Daniels is trying to become an actress, and goes to a number of auditions, but also takes several well-off clients on the side, to pay the bills.  She regularly goes to a psychiatrist, who she tells about the difficulty of leaving her old lifestyle behind.  When Klute finally confronts Daniels about Gruneman, she tells him that she cannot remember Gruneman specifically, but does remember being beaten up by a client two years previously.  She can neither confirm nor deny that this client was Gruneman, but agrees to help Klute with investigation.  She first takes him to her former pimp Frank Ligourin (Roy Scheider), who would have set the client up for her.  Ligourin reveals that he sent the client to Daniels at the request of another prostitute.  This other woman, Jane McKenna, knew the man was crazy and abusive, and since she was jealous of Daniels, thought it would be good revenge.  The man also visited a third prostitute, Arlyn Page.  Unfortunately, it is going to be hard for Klute to track down the two women:  McKenna is dead, and Page is a raging junkie who has dropped out of sight.

Daniels slowly becomes less wary of Klute, while also becoming mores suspicious of her surroundings.  She comes to believe that someone is watching her, which pushes her closer to Klute.  A relationship starts to develop, though Daniels tells her psychiatrist that it makes her uneasy to have real feelings for someone else.  After visiting a number of other pimps and madams, the pair inally find Arlyn Page, who is indeed a raging junkie.  Page does remember the client, but when shown a picture of Gruneman she denies that he is the client, saying that it was an older man.  Not long after this, Page is found murdered.  As all of this has been happening, Klute has been making periodic progress reports to his friend Cable, who hired him for the job.  What he does not know (but what is revealed to the viewer) is that Cable is stalking Bree Daniels.  Klute asks an outside source for help, and gives him the obscene letters with the instructions to check out everybody close to Gruneman.  By examining the way the letter was typed, the consultant is able to determine that Cable wrote the letters, not Gruneman.  Klute then visits Cable and tells him that he needs an extra $500 to buy Jane McKenna’s “little black book”, which should have the name of the mystery client/murderer in it.  After Klute leaves Cable immediately tracks down the scared Daniels in a garment store.  He tells her that he is responsible for the deaths of Gruneman, McKenna and Page:  he got out of hand during an encounter with McKenna, which Gruneman witnessed.  Cable would afraid that Gruneman would use the information against him, so he killed Gruneman but tried to pin McKenna’s murder on him with the letter.  He then killed Page to keep her quiet, but made a recording of the killing which he makes Daniels listen to.  Just as it ends he attacks Daniels, but is himself then attacked by Klute; thrown off balance by the struggle, Cable crashes through a window and falls to his death.  Daniels moves out of her apartment and out of the city, still apparently in a relationship with Klute, though she voices skepticism to her psychiatrist over its ability to last.

MY TAKE:  This might be a mystery (and a not bad one:  the reveal of the villain is great), and it might be named for the detective, but it’s Jane Fonda’s movie.  I read her autobiography once, and she said that in order to prepare for this role she basically lived in Bree Daniels’ apartment — director Alan Pakula actually had a working toilet put into the set, which was on a sound stage in New York, so that she could stay there overnight.  She contributed a lot to the look of the apartment, and the experience greatly helped her in developing the character of Bree, which you can see in the movie.  She also spent a week with prostitutes and pimps in order to get perspective, but this almost had a disastrous side effect:  when none of the pimps asked her to work for them, she thought she wasn’t convincing as a prostitute, and asked Pakula to replace her with her good friend Faye Dunaway.  Her attempt to immerse herself in Bree’s life didn’t stop there:  she went to the morgue to look at bodies for the scene where Bree flips through the photos of dead prostitutes (which made her puke), and legitimately started crying (not acting, actually crying) in the climactic scene at the end, when she’s listening to the tape of Arlyn Page.  Obviously, all of this worked out for her, as she won the Oscar.  It probably had a huge effect on her career, too, as I would imagine that her input led her to seek more creative control in her later films — she was instrumental in the production of Coming Home and On Golden Pond, for starters  For these reasons, among others (like her political activism, popular opinion be damned), Jane Fonda is on my shortlist of bad-ass actresses.  In an era when the women’s liberation movement was really fighting for equality, she had a lot of control over her movies, and her tastes and instincts were pretty spot-on.  The whole women’s liberation movement makes me think of one other thing:  I have decided that two things always occur in a movie made in the 1970s.  First, there is always a boob shot; second, nobody wears a bra.  I don’t know if this actually stemmed from women’s lib and the bra-burning thing, or the final death of the Production Code, or just trends at the time, but seriously, pay attention the next time you watch a 1970s movie, especially a famous one.  It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see unrestrained boobs.

RATING:  Good mystery; great acting.

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