' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Klute

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: Klute

The title of this film, as it turns out, is a misnomer. Sure, sure, John Klute (Donald Sutherland) figures prominently. He’s a detective from small town Pennsylvania with a cordial air as demonstrated at the dinner table scene opening the film at the home of the respected Grunemans, Tom (Robert Milli) and Holly (Betty Murray). Alas, soon after Tom turns up missing. Well, maybe not missing. Maybe he flew the coop. Maybe he was leading a double life because as it turns out he had sent several, uh, shall we say, obscene letters to a prostitute in New York City.

That prostitute is Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) who is the first person Klute tracks down when, in the wake of the police’s ineptness, he lights out for the bright lights to try and track down Tom. Initially she resists Klute’s intrusions. Eventually she will aid him. Obligatorily she will fall for him. Really, “Klute” is much more about Bree, in so much as this is a refreshing – even if it is rather sordid – mystery-oriented film where just as much as care is taken to create the most crucial character. We first meet her on the job with a “john.” Then we see her chatting up a therapist, evoking Sera in “Leaving Las Vegas.” (Wait, I meant to say that Sera in “Leaving Las Vegas” was evoking Bree in “Klute.”) She is irate at her therapist for not talking her out of turning tricks but, as the conversation progresses, she reveals that, in reality, she isn’t upset about it at all. She likes what she does - not the sex, mind you, which is unfulfilling and mostly less than average, but the control she wields over the variety men of she encounters. She digs control.

Which is why she is so uneasy when in the wake of receiving these obscene letters from Tom she also begins receiving phone calls where the mystery person on the other end of the line remains eerily silent. She is gripped by the sensation that she is being followed everywhere she goes. She is, in short, losing control. She loses even more of it when Klute reveals he has been tapping her phone to use as leverage to gain her assistance. Eventually she feels a flicker of attraction for him, and he for her, even as they descend deeper into the mystery.

Oh. Right. The mystery. Despite being billed as a Mystery/Thriller (per IMDB) the least interesting and most poorly executed part of "Klute" is, in fact, the mystery. Bree recalls being beaten a couple years back by a john but doesn’t remember if it was Gruneman because she doesn’t remember Gruneman himself which leads to a meeting with her, uh, pimp (Roy Scheider) which leads to Arlyn Page who also serviced this supposedly abusive john who reveals this supposedly abusive john wasn't Grunneman but someone else. And eventually, of course, Klute connects the dots but what a bunch of tedious dots. Heck, the whole thing wraps up with a Talking Killer Scene (coinage: Roger Ebert) which drives things to a standstill rather than to ultimate suspense.

Director Alan J. Pakula does his best to elicit mood and tension - and shows why he was such a splendid to choice to helm "All the President's Men" a few years later - by drenching seemingly the whole film in shadows (no one uses overhead lights - only lamps) and offering suitably sinister POV shots of the someone who is stalking Bree. But storywise it’s as if writers Andy Lewis & David P. Lewis started out with designs of this being a top notch detective flick centered around John Klute – hence the title – got a good ways into it and suddenly realized that Bree was taking a stranglehold on the whole story.

There is a bit too much of Bree conveniently expositing background information via her therapist (kind of like the reverse mirror of the Talking Killer Scene) and yet Fonda, who won an Acadmey Award for her work, sells it all so urgently you never quite notice. She is not the requisite Cinematic Hooker who is only doing to get by or because she was forced into this way of life, etc. She makes it apparent that while she is fully aware she should be ashamed of what she does, she isn't. In fact, she kinda gets off on it, and that guilt weighs heavily. And that makes us wonder about the end.

Once all that routine nonsense involving the whodunit is resolved, Our Gal Bree decides to high tail outta town and back to Pennsylvania to be with Klute. I'm suspicious. How long do you think she lasted in the Keystone State? Six months? Three months? Two weeks? If there'd been a "Klute 2" she would have been back in Manhattan turning tricks.


Dan said...

I totally agree about the mystery, which is dull and straightforward. Pakula creates a great paranoid tone that's well-done, but the plot doesn't match up. However, I enjoyed this movie because of the performances, especially from Fonda. It's more of a character study than a thriller, and it works well in that realm.

Andrew K. said...

I remember being impressed by the character sensibilities more than the mystery, but not necessarily let-down by the mystery. I also remember thinking that it's something of a tragedy that Sutherland never earned an Oscar nod for the fine performances he gave (this, for example, Ordinary People, too).

Being older now, I do wonder about the problem you bring up at the end, but when I was younger happier endings made me....umm....happy.