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Klute

Klute was one of the first great '70s films in a classical mode. Two others appeared around 1971, The French Connection and The Last Picture Show. You can tell that these were great films because they are still watched today, influenced subsequent films, and inspired great criticism. But Klute was the one photographed by Gordon Willis, who would arguably play the most important role in Hollywood in subsequent years by reasserting classical style in modern movies, next for Coppola and then for Woody Allen. Willis used dark, mostly brown-hued colors, overhead lighting (influenced by the painter Thomas Eakins and later something of an influence on Robert Richardson), and cunning compositions within the cumbersome widescreen image. The screenplay also has an uncommon clarity and precise understanding of psychological motivation. Credited to Andy and Dave Lewis, it's a remarkable work. It's about a Pennsylvania cop named John Klute (Donald Sutherland) investigating the disappearance of his best friend. His sole clue is a woman named Bree Daniel. Played by Jane Fonda, she is a Manhattan call girl trying to get out of the business and find a job in acting. Unfortunately, she seems addicted to The Life, not just because of the easy money, but, as she explains to her therapist, because it cocoons her psychologically. Klute hires Bree to take him on a tour of the underworld, descending (in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective novel) deeper into the world of crime, prostitution, drugs, and night life. Though Klute's eyes, Bree sees her world as if for the first time, and undergoes psychological turmoil. Meanwhile, the killer, sensing that Klute is closer to exposing him, is boxed into a corner and takes action. Fonda won a best actress Oscar and numerous other awards for her performance. The film is also superbly directed by Alan J. Pakula. Before his untimely death in 1998, Pakula had an uneven career with some great films in it, but Klute probably is his greatest. Warner's DVD edition of Klute comes in a stripped-down package, but with an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1). Gordon's Willis's cinematography shines in a virtually spotless print. The audio remains the Dolby 1.0 mono from the even more stripped-down 1994 Laserdisc, but it is audible and sounds fine. (Also here is a French track and an array of subtitles). The DVD adds the (rather longish) theatrical trailer and an eight-minute "making-of" featurette, "Klute in New York: A Background for Suspense," made at the time of release, and which is much more frank than anything conceivable today in the same genre. Fonda, Sutherland, and Pakula all speak harshly about how awful New York City is. This little featurette is also discreet about the fact that Fonda and Sutherland were lovers at the time, and shows little bits of scenes being filmed that were trimmed for the final release. Filmographies. Snap-case.
—D.K. Holm

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