Monday, January 17, 2011

Swing With Bree

Jane Fonda won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing New York call girl Bree Daniels in director Alan J. Pakula's 1971 thriller KLUTE. Bree is a prostitute, but only until she can get her acting career started. She’s remarkably bright and takes pride in a job well done. Television writers Andy Lewis and David Lewis gave Fonda a script far beyond the MEDICAL CENTERs and VIRGINIANs that bought them houses and fed their kids, creating one of the star’s most fascinating characters and putting her in the middle of a thriller that doesn’t feel like one. I suspect the Lewis brothers penned a straight-on mystery that became less plot-oriented once Fonda signed on. The screenplay was nominated for just about every award for which it was eligible, but I wonder if there wasn’t some uncredited polishing going on.

One clue is the film’s title, as the movie really isn’t much about Klute. Donald Sutherland (just after M*A*S*H) plays a Pennsylvania small-town cop, John Klute, who goes to New York to investigate the disappearance of his best friend Tom, who appears to have been living a kinky second life. Klute’s only clue is a demented letter Tom wrote to Bree, so he taps her phone and tries to learn more about her. He discovers she has a murderous stalker, and he falls in love with her.

Midwestern character actor Charles Cioffi received the role of his lifetime in his film debut (he was also in SHAFT that year); he fell into television and played a lot of mobsters and cops. Roy Scheider, just before THE FRENCH CONNECTION, makes an impact as Bree’s former pimp. Jean Stapleton (ALL IN THE FAMILY), Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS), Rita Gam, and Dorothy Tristan as a doomed junkie are also good, and you can spot a pre-KOJAK Kevin Dobson as a bar extra and a pre-HILL STREET BLUES Veronica Hamel as a model. Harry Reems and Sylvester Stallone reportedly were extras too.

As a mystery, KLUTE isn’t much of one; well, it intentionally tips its hand early, and the climax is somewhat contrived. As previously noted, I don’t think Pakula cared much about the story, and even the suspenseful ending is more notable for its performances by Fonda and a mostly-heard-but-not-seen Cioffi than its violence or horror. KLUTE is a smart, slick film though, well-shot by Gordon Willis, who filmed New York City as well as anyone who ever lived (even if KLUTE mainly exists on soundstages), and scored by Michael Small.

1 comment:

Amanda By Night said...

I loved this movie when I first saw it many years ago. It's interesting what you say about the ending as all I remember now is Fonda's performance.

Great review!