Created by Andy and Dave Lewis
“Tell me, Klute, did we get you a little? Huh? Just a little bit? Us city folk? The sin, the glitter, the wickedness? Huh?”
“Ah – that’s so pathetic.”
— Klute responds to Bree’s taunts with his typical brevity.
Donald Sutherland plays tight-lipped small-town sleuth JOHN KLUTE in Klute, a 1971 film that’s better remembered for Jane Fonda’s Oscar-winning turn as Bree Daniel, a jittery high-class call girl (and a scene where Hank Fonda’s daughter slowly, oh so slowly, strips off her dress), than for its title character. That’s because Fonda definitely got the showier role in the film, and also because she did a great job with it.
Still, in his own low-key way Sutherland matches Fonda scene-for-scene with an understated performance that’s just as emotionally true and squirmy, making Klute one of the better P.I. films of an era crowded with them, only a notch or two below Chinatown.
The set up is that Klute is a personal friend of a Pennsylvania corporate big shot, Tom Gruneman, who has been missing for several months. The corporation hires the soft-spoken Klute to find their missing exec and sends him to New York City to track him down after the discovery of a rather explicit letter.
Unfortunately, Klute isn’t exactly the ideal person to investigate the disappearance–he admits up front that he has no experience in missing persons cases, nor in big-city investigations. As a result, Klute soon finds himself over his head in a seemingly amoral world of Big Apple call girls, pimps and high-living low-lifes.
However, Klute has a quiet determination to succeed, and stoically sticks with the case, soon following the bread crumbs to the troubled Bree, who has little interest in helping him (there’s no heart of gold in this hooker). She immediately distrusts him, alternately flirting and angrily belittling him, and Fonda absolutely nails it, in a nuanced performance that almost every critic under the sun raved about at the time (even as the film itself got decidedly mixed reviews), with more than one snarking that the film should have been called “Bree,” not “Klute”.
The mystery Klute has to solve isn’t all that complex, frankly, but the film is. It’s a terrific character study of two very different people, both questioning their lives in different ways, thrown up against a culture seriously at war with itself. Highly recommended viewing, especially for detective buffs who prefer a bit of psychological drama with their sleuthing.
- “Don’t feel bad about losing your virtue. I sort of knew you would. Everybody always does.”
— Bree Daniel
- “What’s your bag, Klute? What do you like? Are you a talker? A button freak? Maybe you like to get your chest walked around with high-heeled shoes. Or make ’em watch you tinkle. Or maybe you get off wearing women’s clothes. Goddamned hypocrite squares!”
- “Reminiscent of the good detective mysteries of the 40s — it has the lurking figures, the withheld information, the standard gimmick of getting the heroine to go off alone so she can be menaced…. (Fonda’s) performance is very pure, unadorned by ‘acting’…she has somehow gotten onto a plane of acting at which even her closest closeup never reveals a false note…There isn’t another young dramatic actress in American films who can touch her.”
— Pauline Kael (The New Yorker)
- “What follows is a story that is such a reflection of the cynicism of the early 70s that, at times, it seems to overplay its hand a bit. Klute follows Daniels—even going so far as to tap her phone—and we get to see her ply her trade, in delightfully voyeuristic detail. Small wonder that this film has been called the first of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” (along with The Parallax View and All The President’s Men).”
— Debbi Mack
- “Jane Fonda has emerged as the finest actress of her generation with a mercurial, subtly shaded, altogether fascinating performance.”
— Richard Schickel (TIME)
- “With Fonda and Sutherland, you have actors who understand and sympathize with their characters, and you have a vehicle worthy of that sort of intelligence. So the fact that the thriller stuff doesn’t always work isn’t so important.”
— Roger Ebert
- KLUTE | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
(1971, Warner Brothers)
Written by Andy and Dave Lewis
Produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula
Starring Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels
and Donald Sutherland as JOHN KLUTE
Also starring Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider, Vivian Nathan, Nathan George, Jean Stapleton (and look sharp for unbilled extras Veronica Hamel and Sylvester Stallone!)
- Klute (1971, by William Johnston) | Buy this book
- My Review of “Klute” (1971)
Debbi Mack found it at the movies.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- August 9, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: Donald Sutherland plays a small town dick, stoic as a stone, adrift in the big city, who tangles with Jane Fonda, a troubled hooker who does not have a heart of gold.
Respectfully submitted by Rudyard Kennedy and Kevin Burton Smoth.