Director: Alan J. Pakula
Production: Warner Bros.; Technicolor; Panavision; running time: 114 minutes; length: 10,240 feet. Released June 1971.
Producer: Alan J. Pakula; co-producer: David Lange; screenplay: Andy K. Lewis, Dave Lewis; assistant director: William Gerritty; photography: Gordon Willis; editor: Carl Lerner; sound: Chris Newman; art director: George Jenkins; music: Michael Small.
Cast: Jane Fonda (Bree Daniel); Donald Sutherland (John Klute); Charles Cioffi (Cable); Roy Scheider (Frank Ligourin); Dorothy Tristan (Arlyn Page); Rita Gam (Trina); Vivian Nathan (Psychiatrist); Nathan George (Lt. Trask); Morris Strassberg (Mr. Goldfarb); Barry Snider (Berger); Anthony Holland (Actor's Agent); Richard Shull (Sugarman); Betty Murray (Holly Gruneman); Fred Burrell (Man in Hotel); Jean Stapleton (Goldfarb's Secretary); Robert Milli (Tom Gruneman); Jane White (Janie Dale); Shirley Stoler (Momma Reese); Mary Louise Wilson (Producer in Ad Agency); Marc Malvin (Assistant Producer in Ad Agency); Jan Fielding (Psychiatrist's Secretary); Antonia Ray (Mrs. Vasek); Robert Ronan (Director in Little Theatre); Richard Ramos (Assistant Director in Little Theatre).
Award: Oscar for Best Actress (Fonda), 1971.
Kaplan, E. Ann, editor, Women in Film Noir, London, 1978.
Jeien, Thomas, Jane Fonda: Ihre Filme, ihr Leben, Munich, 1981.
Erlanger, Ellen, Jane Fonda, Minneapolis, 1981.
Haddad, G. G., The Films of Jane Fonda, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1981.
Guiles, Fred, Jane Fonda: The Actress in Her Time, New York, 1982.
Cole, Gerald, and Wes Farrell, The Fondas, London, 1984.
Robbiano, Giovanni, Alan Pakula, Firenze, 1985.
French, Sean, Jane Fonda: A Biography, London, 1998.
Variety (New York), 30 June 1971.
Milne, Tom, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.
Sirkin, Elliot, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1971.
Houston, Penelope, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1971.
Rignall, John, in Monogram (London), No. 4, 1972.
Legrand, Gérard, in Positif (Paris), March 1972.
Eyles, Allen, "Donald Sutherland," in Films in Review (New York), Autumn 1973.
Cineaste (New York), vol. 11, no. 2, 1981.
Lovell, Terry, and Simon Frith, "How Do You Get Pleasure? Another Look at Klute," in Screen Education (London), Summer 1981.
Kornatowska, M., "Eros i cywilizacja," in Kino (Warsaw), August 1985.
Caputo, R., "Film Noir: 'You Sure You Don't See What You Hear?,"' in Continuum, vol. 5, no. 2, 1992.
Atkinson, M., "Jane Fonda in Klute," in Movieline (Escondido), vol. 6, April 1995.
Jönsson, Mats, "Parallax Paranoia: On Alan J. Pakulas amerikanska trilogi," in Filmhäftet (Stockholm), vol. 27, no. 105, 1999.
* * *
Jane Fonda's Academy Award-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a New York prostitute with modeling aspirations, was her latest in a series of roles that paralleled the course of American society. After initially appearing as a cheerleader in Tall Story, Fonda had become increasingly political, prompting the ire of American conservatives by appearing in Tout va bien, made by Jean-Luc Godard, who in A Letter to Jane attacked her for the Hollywood liberalism of Klute. Though Klute did appeal to some early feminist critics who regarded it as a psychologically realistic portrait of a woman's inner conflict, later feminists have discussed it in political terms, finding a subtext which endorses patriarchy.
In an interview in Positif Alan Pakula stated that he regarded the film as similar to a 1940s thriller, a genre that he could use for his own purposes. In fact, Klute possesses several film noir characteristics, both in style and content, but Pakula shifts the psychological focus from Klute, the detective, to Bree, the intended victim. Klute's attempts to discover the identity of the killer pale in comparison to Bree's efforts at self-discovery, which are aided by a female psychotherapist. Thus the film is generically both film noir thriller and a psychological thriller, and the audience identifies with Bree, a developing character whose inner conflict torments her, not with Klute, the static and reticent male.
Bree wants to leave "the life," which ironically gives her control and independence, for modeling, but the audition with its "lineup" and depersonalization, seems to offer only a different "life." When Klute, the small-town friend of a murder victim, pursues the identity of the murderer, he seems to offer her another option, love and its accompanying dependence; for he comes to love and protect her. Ironically, his love and protection further endanger her, and as she relinquishes control to Klute, she nearly loses her life. Like Cable, the murderer, Klute poses a real threat, though it is more psychological than physical. At one point Bree attacks Klute with scissors and twice flees from him to her ex-pimp, only to find that prostitution itself involves dependency and, eventually, death. Just as Klute represents an appeal to dependency and loss of control, Cable, the murderer, represents control in the form of detachment. Neither Bree nor Cable is emotionally involved in sex, which becomes an act by which each wields power, and both wish to be emotionally numb. Even their voices, as rendered on the tape recorder, seem similar. Although the stereotypical roles of detective and criminal are antithetical, Klute and Cable actually have a great deal in common, thereby reinforcing the image of Klute as a threat to Bree. After the tape recorder is played in rural Pennsylvania, Klute appears in New York; and both men use similar methods, though for different purposes.
Just as Klute and Cable can be viewed as dramatic projections of the forces within Bree's mind, her apartment may also represent herself. She is spied on in her apartment, which is subsequently and brutally penetrated by Cable; Bree's semen-soaked underpants suggest that Cable, too, sees his action as rape. When she leaves her apartment and sleeps with Klute, she also leaves her "self" and becomes dependent on him. At the end of the film she and Klute leave her apartment, which is empty, except for the ringing telephone, her link with the "johns" and her therapist. Her furnishings, that which made the apartment "hers," are gone; and she may be empty of her past, ready to acquire Klute's furnishings, his values, his life, his identity.
Though Cable's death and Bree's decision to leave dark, claustrophobic New York for the sunlight of rural Pennsylvania imply that she has opted for love and dependence, Pakula does create some ambiguity. She has told her analyst that she will probably be back next week for an appointment, but that verbal message does not carry the weight that the visual one does: standing in the empty apartment, she is wearing the same clothes she wore at the beginning of the film. Bree may have chosen love and dependency for the present, through the efforts of the female therapist who has encouraged that choice, but the choice is not without personal cost.
—Thomas L. Erskine