Klute: Part 2

For The Film Experience, I wrote about the middle act of 1971’s stellar mystery drama Klute.

In Part 1 of this Klute retrospective (and best shot appreciation) Nathaniel guided us through the introduction of a vague central mystery and soon to be classic film characters in sex worker Bree Daniels and the titular character, John Klute, who is investigating the disapperance of his best friend, who the police believe to be a former client of Bree’s. In part two, I’ll be guiding you through the middle act.

We pick back up as Bree keeps switching tactics, alternately trying to seduce Klute, turn the tables on him, or rage at him, rather than play dutifully along with his questioning. 

Obviously these retrospectives contain SPOILERS so if you’ve never seen this classic, head to HBOMax first before continuing…

36:00 – Fonda is so brilliant throughout the long duet scene.  She understands exactly who Bree is.  She is all seductive charm while trying to keep up a shield of who she really is.  Unfortunately for her, John Klute is a tough nut to crack

38:00 – Some of the best work Sutherland does is with his expressive eyes.  He quickly scopes out the roof as the camera looks down through the skylight.  Bree thinks she has him as they walk over to the bed

Don’t be afraid
I’m going to sit you down on the bed
There’s someone on the roof.

38:29 – I was glad to get the second act of the film as this is among my favourite sequences.  The camera lingers on the small of Bree’s back as Klute’s back is blurred in a mirror reflection while Bree caresses him.  Klute begins to give stern orders as the score twinkles ominously.  When Bree hears “There’s someone on the roof” she stops cold with a quiet gasp.  The camera’s focus shifts to the mirror’s reflection as Klute pulls out his gun and flashlight and Bree realizes how serious this all is.

39:21 – This sequence is one where director Alan J Pakula, cinematographer Gordon Willis and editor Carl Lerner can all show off.  Klute heads for the roof illuminated by only the rusted skylight and Klute’s flashlight.  In my choice for Best Shot (as previously noted on my own site) you see an ominious hand in the left corner of the frame as Klute reaches the roof, peering out at the right side of the frame with that crack of light. The stranger is leaving the rooftop and Klute pursues.  Small noises continue, but the scene is highlighted by composer Michael Small’s forboding piano.  Klute twists and turns through the labyrinth of the dingy and dark apartment complex.  

40:50 -His flashlight wanders until he thinks he’s found something. Yep, that’s Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi), who we met in the film’s very first scenes, lurking in the shadows just out of Klute’s view.  Klute calls out for his missing friend Tom, not making out the hiding man’s face. A sound leads him in the wrong direction and he happens upon some squatters. The pursuit was in vain so he heads back to Bree.

Who sent you on that date?

This question means we’re soon to meet Frank Ligourin, Bree’s former pimp.

43:42 – As Bree sleeps and Klute watches over her, we cut to a scene of Cable listening to Bree’s tapes again. We see him from three angles: upside down in a reflection, then in closeup seated, and finally against a window in silhouette (DP Willis again showing off his impressive eye). Cable never moves, just sits creepily listening over and over to these tapes.  Fonda’s voice is so expressive, you can feel her acting out her prostitute role just through her voice alone.  

-I used to be a photographer before I got into publishing.
-He knows you’re a pimp, Frankie. 

44:06 – Here’s Ligourin (Roy Scheider) in his god-awful apartment.  Kudos to future Oscar winning Art Director George Jenkins (All The President’s Men) and Set Decorator John Mortensen. Every cliché of a hip 1971 apartment fills the frame.  From the hanging glass bulbs to the faux-gold records on the wall.  You can practically smell the cocaine.

(Sadly Klute was ignored at the Oscars, beyond Fonda’s win and a nomination for the Original Screenplay, despite so many worthy elements).

45:20 – Scheider is so good at being charming and sleazy, it’s almost unnatural.  Ligourin tells Klute about his girls, Jane McKenna, as well as a “freak” client who was passed on to Bree.  McKenna killed herself, while the other girl, Arlyn Page, is a junkie.

47:24 – As a show of good will, Klute hands over the Bree’s recordings.  Klute thinks he is done with Bree and adds a little insult before parting. 

-Tell me Klute, did we get you a little, us city folks? The sin, the glitter, the wickedness? 
-That’s so pathetic.
-Fuck off!

Bree tosses the tapes in the trash as she walks away.

48:30 – I always appreciate a great actress acting like a bad actress!  Bree puts on an Irish accent for the film’s third audition scene.  Klute is hanging out in the background, never quite able to shake this woman.  It turns out Klute needs Bree’s help to find Page, so they team up again. Bree smiles and visibly drops her guard after Klute compliments her acting.

50:30 – Bree meets with Trina, a madam who might have a line on Arlyn.  This film is so filled with these brief rich supporting characters that each investigative thread feels like it could be its own movie.  This leads our stars to a club which only reinforces the reports of Arlyn being a junkie.

53:20 – Bree looks through a series of photos of dead prostitutes to see if her friend is among them.  Klute hovers behind.  No words are spoken in this scene at all, but the message is clear.  This is a dangerous profession and one Bree seeks willingly.  Fonda zips out of frame, like Bree trying to avoid her reality.

Back on Bree’s roof, we hear footsteps and creaking as we watch her drinking, a POV shot from her stalker. Bree goes down to Klute’s “room” after being unable to sleep.  Klute allows her in, but makes no attempt to sleep with her, despite some subtle attempts by Bree to stay in his bed

54:30 – Bree sees Klute’s notes on the wall and focuses specifically her mugshot.  Klute lets her sleep in the bed and sleeps on the pullout bed.  He watches her lay on the bed for a moment before making his own bed.  

57:02 – Bree says “Thank you” as he lays down. Look at that expressive body language. Bree doesn’t stay still long before making her move and snuggling up to Klute.  Bree is the initial aggressor, but Klute ends up on top.  The scene is relatively quiet and unsexy.

58:01 – Klute stares holes in Bree as she lies relaxed after their lovemaking.  She plays to his masculine instincts and calls him a “tiger” and then a “John” before snarking about his virtue and leaving again to her apartment.  Bree is so desperate for control in a situation she has no control over that she’s slept with Klute just to gain the upper hand again

That smug triumphant look doesn’t last. Back in her apartment, she lays with her eyes open as the score twinkles and the lighting gives her abode a haunted feeling. The next morning they’re back on the trail. First they see Momma Reese, another madam, who leads them to more places to look, which leads them to others.

1:00:17 – We finally find Arlyn (and her boyfriend), who excitedly meet them at the door thinking it’s their drug dealer.  Arlyn doesn’t recognize Tom Gruneman’s picture. He’s not the “freak” client.  Reaching another dead end, Klute and Bree accidentally scare off the drug dealer which leaves the addicts distraught.  Bree watches Arlyn’s domestic “bliss” silently, and walks out recalling the same feeling and rhythm of the scene when she leafed through the dead prostitute photos.

It has shaken her. Driving along, Bree suddenly jumps out of Klute’s car and races to a club.  She stumbles through, gets drunk or high, and makes out with a patron, until she ends up in the back of the club where she finds Ligourin again.

1:05:00 – Bree snuggles up with her old pimp, who gives her a tug on her hair, before releasing her to her own will.  Bree and Klute exchange glances — an incredibly tense acting duet — until she defiantly destructively moves closer to Ligourin. The camera pulls slowly away from this sleazy tableau as dancers continue revelling, obstructing our view.

She wouldn’t be reliable anyway, a narcotics addict.

1:06:00 – Smash cut to Cable, with whom Klute reports Gruneman’s connection or lack of connection to Arlyn, whom Klute wants to press harder on.  Cable’s unwavering professionalism sets Klute at ease, but as soon as Klute leaves, the sliding wall comes in and the tapes of Bree’s calls come out.

I think the only way that any of us can ever be happy is to let it all hang out. Do it all and fuck it.

1:08:20 – The tape audio from the previous scene continues, providing incongruous commentary as we look at “happy” Bree back in her apartment.  Klute nurses a shaken Bree following her time with Ligourin.  He is gentle and compassionate, then sits at her table while she sleeps.

1:10:49 – Klute wets a rag and attempts to sooth Bree, who lashes out at him.  As she regains her senses, Klute holds her softly.  The contrast between this sensitive embrace and the earlier controlling embrace with Ligourin is unmistakable.

Seeing people that I used to know, that I liked… that were my friends… sort of… 

1:10:24 – Bree is back at her therapist, explaining her actions.  She is simultaneously repulsed and nostalgic for her old life.  Her compassion for the other girls omes through and harkens back to all the pictures of dead prostitutes. “it could have been me…  I guess I just realized that I don’t give a damn.”

1:12:11 – Klute searches Jane McKenna’s belongings following her suicide.  He finds small trinkets and keys.  “I thought there’d be more”  Sutherland does such a great job of exuding goodness without any audience pandering overtures. It’s not like Klute is giving candy to orphans. 

In a follow up scene, Bree watches Klute from across the room as we hear more from her therapy session. She attempts to explain their new relationship.  “Did you feel threatened?”  the therapist asks.  Bree explains, “When your used to being alone and someone comes in and moves that around, it’s a little scary, I guess..”

1:14:45 – As Klute caresses Bree, she explains (in voiceover) that her anger leads her to want to manipulate him, in the ways she knows how.  “It’s easy to manipulate men, right?” Again, we see her need for control.

At the docks, Arlyn’s body is found.  Her boyfriend seems more concerned with his next fix than her death.  Klute gives him some money and finds his investigation at another dead end…

Check out Part 3 with Mark Brinkerhoff

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