Wednesday, August 18, 2021

70's Thriller Watch: Klute (1971)

Watched:  08/18/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Alan J. Pakula

In, I believe, 1996 the assistant manager at Camelot Records found out I was a film major.  
"Have you seen Klute?" she asked.
"No.  What is it?"
"Jane Fonda.  Donald Sutherland.  She's a hooker and he's a detective."
"Huh.  I'll need to check that out."
She'd check in weekly, really, to see if I'd seen it yet, and to be truthful, every time I went to rent it at I Love Video, it was checked out.  Or lost.  I didn't know, but it wasn't in.  But, yeah.
So, here we are, Jill.  25 years later, I finally watched Klute (1971).

Well, Klute is, actually, a very good movie.  Two thumbs up.  I dug it.  Nice, grimy pre-punk New York, Donald Sutherland nailing quiet intensity that I am sure made someone swoon.  Fonda maybe a little patrician for the role, but that's kind of the point, I think.  

Sutherland does play a private investigator, John Klute, searching for an executive who went missing a long time before.  The clues are scant, except for a letter that matches several that a call girl (Fonda) received, shortly after getting beat up by a john she barely remembers, one of a sea of faces.  

As Mankiewicz pointed out in the film's intro, Bree Daniel is not your typical hooker with a heart of gold (often coded hookers, but, you know), or a stereotype.  She's a fully imagined person and the movie doesn't shy away from what she's been up to and why and how she does it.  It's still pretty novel 50 years on, and Fonda handles it remarkably well, with no safety net for her character.  She is what she is.

Klute himself remains a bit of a cipher, his actions much louder than his words.  But those actions are enough for Bree to trust the guy, and maybe more.

The mystery itself tips it's hand early on, but it doesn't tell you anything about how the movie will actually resolve the dilemma, something I always appreciate, but it does keep it from feeling like a classic detective story.  

Behind the camera we have famed director/ producer Alan J Pakula, who brought us All the President's Men, Presumed Innocent, To Kill a Mockingbird and innumerable other great films, his career spanning well into my high school and college film selections at the cinema (I certainly remember recognizing his name in the credits back then).  But cinematography was handled by Gordon Willis, who shot Godfathers I, II and III, as well as the best looking Woody Allen films (ie: Manhattan and Annie Hall).  But, man, he knocks it out of the park here, using the depth of 1970's film grade and the tones and palette of worn NYC in conjunction with what feels like practical lights (and couldn't possibly have been).  

There's some interesting little bits that it helps to have lived in a pre-cell phone, pre-computers age to appreciate, like "I have to pick up the phone every time it rings, because there's no such thing as voicemail or blocking calls".  And, maybe a flip-flop of The Conversation (which would arrive three years later) when it comes to the nature of recorded conversations.  

Anyway, sorry, Jill the assistant-manager.  I wish we'd just rented the movie and watched it back then.  

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