By the early 1970s, Hollywood—and America—was changing. The production code, that set of rules placed in the 1930s that told movie studios what they could, and couldn’t, show on screen had crumbled. Audiences were ready for Hollywood to grow up, as the late 1960s faded into the early 1970s, the innocence that had existed in America just ten years prior was gone. Ended by assignations and war. In August 1967, “Bonnie and Clyde” became a huge hit—and was the most violent film ever released by a major studio at the time. The film’s success showed that the antiquated production code was just that, old hat. Studios began to ignore the code, and slowly, the code faded away. Eventually replaced by the rating system we all know today.
In 1971, Warner Brothers would release what would come to be the first in director Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy.” The movie was “Klute” starring Jane Fonda in a role that would win her an Oscar, and Donald Sutherland. With “Klute” Fonda became a leading lady for the 1970s. Fonda plays Bree Daniels, a call girl and aspiring actress living in New York City who finds herself involved in a missing person investigation led by John Klute, a private eye from a smaller part of Pennsylvania.
“Klute” is a neo-noir, paranoia tinged conspiracy-thriller—with a character study in the middle of it. Bree Daniels is a Call girl, but that doesn’t define her. She’s an aspiring actress, an intelligent, independent woman. Though Sutherland may star as the film’s title role, the movie is all Fonda’s. Daniels has been targeted by a series of obscene phone calls and letters, which appear to have come from a prominent businessman in Pennsylvania. The film opens with Klute spending Thanksgiving with the man and his family, then two months later, he’s disappeared.
I first saw “Klute” maybe two years ago when it was on FilmStruck (RIP). At the time I remembered being impressed by it, but watching it again last night on a wonderful new blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, I was knocked out by it. What struck me was how well-paced the film is. “Klute” is a great movie, and one of the great movies from a decade which was littered with them. Hollywood was changing, growing up, and then by the end of the decade discovered the finances that could be made from sci-fi franchises. Fonda is fantastic in the film, as is all the cast. Sutherland does a wonderful job playing the slightly naive detective now in a big city with all its dirt and corruption, yet real people with multiple layers.
Watching “Klute” for the first time I thought of how great the film’s look is, shot by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, it’s dark and gritty. But that transfer I saw on FilmStruck was also a little bit washed out. Criterion’s new blu-ray of “Klute” was made from a 4K digital scan created from the original 35mm camera negative, and supervised by Camera operated Michael Chapman.
This new 4K transfer is stunning. What struck me was how sharper and richer the image is. The darkness and the grit are there, but the colors of the film shine and sparkle in a way I didn’t notice the last time I saw the film. That washed-out look is gone, and every frame looks splendid. The sound is taken from an original two-inch audio tape master, and it’s just as good as the picture. Clear and sharp, with all dialogue easily heard.
There’s a wonderful section of bonus material included in Criterion’s edition of the film. Some new programs produced just for this release are kicked off with a wonderful 36-minute conversation between Jane Fonda and the always delightful Illeana Douglas. There’s a program of interviews one the film’s late director, Alan J. Pakula, which are from an upcoming documentary about him. Writer Amy Fine Collins talks about the look of the film in a new interview piece as well. Vintage material includes a short feature shot during the making of the film, and archival TV interviews with Pakula and Fonda.
Criterion has put together a wonderful edition of a great film of the 1970s. “Klute” is a must-see if you’ve never seen it, and must own if you’ve been waiting to replace your old DVD of the film. Highly recommended. See you next week.