Play It Again – Klute


By Jess Lomas
May 22, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Alan J. Pakula’s Klute may have more style than substance, but it’s a thrilling ride and a standout example of neo-noir driven by natural performances and a haunting score. A missing man connects two strangers; private investigator John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is hired by Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi) to probe the disappearance of Tom Gruneman, leading him to New York call girl Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda). A letter is all that links the missing man with this prostitute, who cannot recall with certainty if he was indeed one of her “Johns,” and, in particular, the one who attacked her.

Teaming up, Klute and Bree embark on a mission to track down the other prostitutes who encountered this brute, by way of Bree’s ex-pimp Frank Ligourin (Roy Scheider). Bree is certain she is being watched and followed, a string of mysterious phone calls adding to the suspicion; this, combined with the trail of questionable call girl suicides leads Klute to suspect Bree will be next to be picked off unless he can save her first.


Klute has been called the first in Pakula’s unofficial “paranoia trilogy,” followed by The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. Shocking thrills are exchanged here for long, drawn out scenes that often amount to nothing; where the audience is challenged to decipher, as much as the characters are, what is a real danger and what is a trick of light or all in one’s mind. This is complimented by Michael Small’s original music – a lingering singsong with the power to command the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end – as well as the cinematography by Gordon Willis, who would go on the following year to work on The Godfather.

At times Klute plays out in a Hitchcockian manner, giving us the stalker’s point of view, playing with shadows and perspective, and offering us delectable noir-period dialogue, all while making commentary on the dawn of the 1970s in a scummy New York City (complete with women’s liberation, free love, drugs and psychoanalysis). Fonda is the star here; there’s no mistaking that this is her film despite the title. She even won the Best Actress Oscar for her troubles.


Klute is now available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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