Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan J. Pakula
Written by
Produced byAlan J. Pakula
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited byCarl Lerner
Music byMichael Small
Gus Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 23, 1971 (1971-06-23)[1]
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.5 million
Box office$12.5 million[2]

Klute is a 1971 American neo-noir psychological thriller[3][4] film directed and produced by Alan J. Pakula, and starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Nathan George, Dorothy Tristan, Roy Scheider, and Rita Gam. Its plot follows a high-priced New York City call girl who assists a detective from Pennsylvania in solving the missing person case of a john who may be stalking her.[5] It is the first installment of what has informally come to be known as Pakula's "paranoia trilogy", followed by The Parallax View (1974) and All the President's Men (1976), all films dealing with themes of paranoia, conspiracies, and surveillance.[6][7]

The original screenplay for Klute was written by brothers Andy and Dave Lewis, with Andy drawing inspiration from a serial he read as a child about a man attempting to solve his brother's murder in a city. Principal photography took place in late 1970 and early 1971 in New York City.

Klute was released theatrically in the United States on June 23, 1971, by Warner Bros. to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised the film's direction and screenplay, with Fonda's performance receiving widespread critical acclaim, while the film grossed over $12 million against a $2.5 million budget.

Klute received two nominations at the 44th Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, with Fonda winning Best Actress. At the 25th British Academy Film Awards, Fonda received a nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. At the 29th Golden Globe Awards, it received a nomination for Best Screenplay, with Fonda winning Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.


After Pennsylvania chemical company executive Tom Gruneman disappears, the police find an obscene letter in Gruneman's office addressed to a New York City call girl named Bree Daniel, who had received several such letters. After six months of fruitless police work, Peter Cable, a fellow executive at Gruneman's company, hires family friend and detective John Klute to investigate Gruneman's disappearance.

Klute rents an apartment in the basement of Bree's building, taps her phone and follows her as she turns tricks. Bree appears to enjoy the freedom of freelancing as a call girl while auditioning for acting and modeling jobs, but she reveals the emptiness of her life to her psychiatrist. Bree refuses to answer Klute's questions at first. After learning that he has been watching her, Bree says that she does not recognize Gruneman. She acknowledges having been beaten up by a john two years earlier, but cannot identify Gruneman from a photo. She further admits to Klute that she is a nervous and paranoid person. Bree takes Klute to meet her former pimp Frank Ligourin, who had managed Jane McKenna, a prostitute who had referred the abusive client to Bree. McKenna has apparently committed suicide, and their other colleague Arlyn Page has since become a drug addict and disappeared.

Klute and Bree develop a romance, although she tells her psychiatrist that she wishes their relationship would end because she felt more in control of herself when turning tricks. She tells Klute that she is paranoid that she is being watched. They find Page, who tells them that the photo of Gruneman is not that of the client, who was an older man. Page's body is later found in the river. Klute connects the apparent suicides of the two prostitutes, surmising that the client was using Gruneman's name. He also thinks the client killed Gruneman and might kill Bree next. Klute revisits Gruneman's acquaintances. By typographic comparison, the obscene letters are traced to Cable, to whom Klute has been reporting during his investigation. Klute asks Cable for money to buy the "black book" of McKenna's clients to learn the identity of the abusive client. He leaves enough bread crumbs to see whether Cable reveals his own complicity in the murders.

Cable follows Bree to a client's office and reveals that he sent her the letters. Cable tells her that after Gruneman accidentally found him physically abusing McKenna, Cable was worried that Gruneman would use the incident to sabotage Cable's career, so Cable tried to frame Gruneman by planting the letter in his office. After playing a snuff audiotape he recorded as he murdered Page, he attacks Bree. When he sees Klute rush in, Cable abruptly lurches backward, crashing through a window to his death.

Bree vacates her apartment with Klute's help. A voiceover conversation with her psychiatrist reveals her hesitancy to surrender her life of autonomy to enter into a traditional relationship with Klute, saying that she would lose her mind if she turned to a domestic lifestyle. She admits that although she will miss Klute, she is unable to tell him, and jokes that the doctor will likely see her again the next week. As they leave the apartment, Bree receives a telephone call from a client, and she informs him she is leaving New York and does not expect to return. She and Klute leave the apartment together.


In addition, Robert Milli appears briefly as Tom Gruneman, and Sylvester Stallone appears as an uncredited extra in a club scene.[8]


Writer Karen Gai Dean notes paranoia and surveillance as principal themes in Klute.[7] She writes that the film's recurrent use of audio tapes as both "visual and aural themes... presciently evoke the paranoia of the Watergate era."[7]

The film was retconned to form the first installment of Pakula's "paranoia trilogy",[9] followed by The Parallax View (1974) and All the President's Men (1976), which similarly dealt with themes of paranoia, conspiracies, and surveillance.[6][7] Scott Tobias of The Guardian noted that while the film "doesn't have the conspiratorial flavor of Pakula's more political films, Klute approaches the genre with the same creepy ambience, with camera angles that suggest surveillance, and an excellent score, by Michael Small, that would seem more suited to horror, with its jangling of keys on the far end of a piano. There's an aura of danger and instability that keeps the film on edge."[9]



Andy Lewis, a writer who had primarily worked in television, developed the screenplay for Klute with the goal of wanting to transition into feature films.[10] His initial inspiration for the screenplay originated from a serial story he had read as a child in The Saturday Evening Post about a man from the country who ventures into the city in an attempt to solve the murder of his brother who was killed there in an empty lot.[10] Lewis focused on two themes he felt were resonant to Americans, firstly "the rube who turns the tables on the city slickers", and secondly, paranoia: "I'm sure this afflicts people all over the world, but I somehow think of it as typically American. The hidden pattern of things. The darkness. The people out there watching you, plotting against you, waiting to hurt you. Sounds you hear at night. Silences on the phone. All that stuff. I figured I would write this thing, however it went, to take the fullest possible advantage of this—what should we call it?—instinct. Deliberately."[10]

The spec script was completed by Andy Lewis in collaboration with his older brother, Dave.[10] The brothers corresponded by letters and phone—Andy from his Massachusetts residence, and Dave from his home in California—with Andy undertaking much of the scripting.[10] Andy commented that the writing was highly collaborative, concluding: "I'd have trouble attributing any part of the original script to one or the other of us solely."[10]


The casting of Jane Fonda, who had recently completed They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) was announced in April 1970.[11] At the time, Fonda had attracted significant scrutiny for her activism against the Vietnam War,[9] and much of the publicity surrounding the film made note of this.[12] To prepare for the role, Fonda spent a week in New York City observing high-class call girls and madams. She also accompanied them on their outings to after-hours clubs to solicit men. Fonda was disturbed that none of the men showed any interest in her, which she believed was because they could see that she was really just an "upper-class, privileged pretender".[13]

Fonda had doubts about whether she could portray the role and asked Alan Pakula to release her from her contract and hire Faye Dunaway instead, but Pakula refused.[14] One of Fonda's primary concerns was that she, as an emerging feminist, should not play a prostitute, but when Fonda admitted this concern to a longstanding feminist, she was disabused of the notion. To overcome her doubts that she could play such a role, Fonda turned to her memories of several call girls whom she had known while living in France, all of whom worked for the famed Madame Claude. She remembered that all of them had been sexually abused as children, and Fonda used this as an "entry" to her own character and as a way to understand Bree's motivations in becoming a prostitute.[15]

Donald Sutherland was cast as private investigator, John Klute, signing onto the project in May 1970.[16] Sutherland later admitted that he clashed with Pakula during the production, commenting that it "was a film where the director had a specific idea, which I didn't particularly understand, nor was I particularly interested in."[12] Roy Scheider was cast as Bree's pimp, Frank Ligourin, a role that brought him significant attention and notably furthered his career.[17]


Principal photography of Klute began in December 1970 in New York City.[18][19] In March 1971, it was reported that filming had completed.[20]

The film was shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis, a frequent collaborator of Pakula known for his employment of darkness and shadows in his cinematography.[6] Film scholar Terence McSweeney writes in The Other Hollywood Renaissance (2020) that the film's cinematography is deliberately destabilizing and disorienting, utilizing close-up shots while lacking establishing shots, and that its editing style features abrupt transitions and a lack of traditional film cues.[21] Actor Donald Sutherland, reflecting on the film, commented that, "there were a lot of things in Klute that didn't make any sense in terms of movies."[22]


Klute was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros., premiering on June 23, 1971, in Los Angeles and New York City[1] before opening wide on June 25.[23]

Box office[edit]

The film earned US$8 million (equivalent to $60,187,346 in 2023) in theatrical rentals at the North American box office.[24]

Critical response[edit]

Jane Fonda's performance received widespread critical acclaim, earning her the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Klute was widely praised by critics for its screenplay and Fonda's performance, though some criticized Pakula's unconventional direction.[12] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Donald Sutherland is coolly commanding and Jane Fonda a force of nature in Klute, a cuttingly intelligent thriller that generates its most agonizing tension from its stars' repartee."[25] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 81 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[26]

The Los Angeles Times's Charles Champlin praised Fonda and Sutherland's performances, summarizing: "Klute is visually stunning, full of surprises, bewildering and suspenseful, faultless in its timing... Like the best mysteries always, Klute offers more than its diversions and redeems its sordid materials by understanding them and finding them worth pity, not amusement."[27]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded Klute 3.5 stars out of a possible 4, writing that while the thriller elements were poorly executed, the performances of Sutherland and especially Fonda carried the film. He suggested that the film should have been titled Bree after her character, who is the "soul" of the film and avoids the hooker with a heart of gold stereotype:

What is it about Jane Fonda that makes her such a fascinating actress to watch? She has a sort of nervous intensity that keeps her so firmly locked into a film character that the character actually seems distracted by things that come up in the movie.[28]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune was similarly appreciative, writing: "More interesting than the mystery is the character of Bree... the nicest part of her character (due to the script and Miss Fonda's fine performance) is that this prostitute doesn't have a heart of gold. She's a hungup little broad who, when cornered by violence or tenderness, will scratch and bite. Director Alan Pakula's... crisply edited movie runs too long only in drawing out its conclusion….Sharp eyes will solve the mystery midway thru the film. Miss Fonda's performance is superior to her most recent work in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?... Sutherland... presents a controlled posture as the industrious detective. His low profile nicely balances Miss Fonda's incendiary role."[29]

J. Luria, writing for the Professional Psychology: Research and Practice journal, praised the film for its psychological elements, particularly its nuanced depiction of prostitution, noting that "a good mystery plot and excellent acting make this film entertaining. But the sociopsychological scrutiny of the prostitution subculture makes it outstanding. The film unfolds on several levels, the description of the call girl, the struggle for her growth, the relationship of Klute and Bree, and the mystery theme. Overall, it is an excellent blending of the clinical and the literal."[30]

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times, in one of the few negative reviews, wrote, "Pakula, when he is not indulging in subjective camera, strives to give his film the look of structural geometry, but despite the sharp edges and dramatic spaces and cinema presence out of Citizen Kane it all suggests a tepid, rather tasteless mush. The acting in Klute seems semi-improvisatory, and in this Jane Fonda, who is good at confessing, is generally successful. Everybody else merely talks a lot, except for Sutherland, who scarcely talks at all. A normally inventive actor, he is here given precisely the latitude to evoke a romantic figure with all the mysterious intensity of a youthful Calvin Coolidge."[31]

Writing for the Chicago Reader in 1985, critic Dave Kehr declared the film "as close to a classic as anything New Hollywood produced."[32]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actress Jane Fonda Won [33]
Best Original Screenplay Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis Nominated [33]
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Jane Fonda Nominated [34]
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Screenplay Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis Nominated
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Movie Performer Jane Fonda Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Won [35]
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis Nominated [35]
Gotham Independent Film Awards Classic Film Tribute Award Klute Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Jane Fonda Won [36]
London Film Critics' Circle Awards Best Director Alan J. Pakula Won [23]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Donald Sutherland Won
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Jane Fonda Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Won [37]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Won [38]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama – Written Directly for the Screen Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis Nominated [23]

Home media[edit]

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released Klute on DVD first in February 2002.[39] The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray in July 2019 featuring a new 4K restoration from the original film elements.[40]


  1. ^ a b Crittenden, John (June 23, 1971). "'Klute' Proves Enjoyable Psycho Film". The Record. p. C–16 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ "Klute (1971) – Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 5, 2024.
  3. ^ Parish 1990, p. 316.
  4. ^ Thomson 2009, p. 124.
  5. ^ Silver & Ward 1992, p. 404.
  6. ^ a b c LoBrutto 2021, p. 55.
  7. ^ a b c d Dean 2003, p. 371.
  8. ^ Eichhorn, Dennis P. (1986). Stallone. Seattle: Turman Pub. Co. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-89872-205-5.
  9. ^ a b c Tobias, Scott (June 25, 2021). "Klute at 50: a thriller less interested in a killer and more in character". The Guardian. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "A Q&A with "Klute" Co-Writer Andy Lewis". TruStory FM. April 10, 2013. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  11. ^ "Jane Fonda stars in Klute". The Calgary Albertan. April 23, 1970. p. 11 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ a b c Kachmar 2015, p. 27.
  13. ^ Susan Lacy (2018). Jane Fonda in Five Acts. HBO Films.
  14. ^ Pascual, Ivy (September 2, 2012). "Jane Fonda on "Klute": I Said, "I Can't Do It. Hire Faye Dunaway"". DuJour Media. Archived from the original on October 5, 2022.
  15. ^ Fonda, Jane (November 16, 2018). "In conversation with...Jane Fonda" (Interview). Interviewed by Samira Ahmed. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on November 28, 2021 – via YouTube.
  16. ^ "Sutherland Signed". Press & Sun-Bulletin. May 23, 1970. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ Kachmar 2015, pp. 27–29.
  18. ^ Beck, Marilyn (December 11, 1970). "Entertainment Stars Winging In And Out For Upcoming Christmas Holiday Season". Calgary Herald. p. 30 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Klute film starts". Windsor Star. December 22, 1970. p. 38 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ Haber, Joyce (March 6, 1971). "Poitier Plaint Ousts Director". Dayton Daily News. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
  21. ^ McSweeney 2020, pp. 254–255.
  22. ^ McSweeney 2020, p. 254.
  23. ^ a b c "Klute (1971)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  24. ^ "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. January 7, 1976. p. 44.
  25. ^ "Klute". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 5, 2024.
  26. ^ "Klute". Metacritic. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  27. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 24, 1971). "Jane Fond in Sex, Suspense Thriller". Los Angeles Times. p. 63 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1971). "Klute Movie Review & Film Summary (1971)". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 13, 2016 – via RogerEbert.com.
  29. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 1, 1971). "The Movies: 'Klute'". Chicago Tribune. p. 22 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ Luria, J. (1972). "After hours: "Klute"". Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 3 (1): 82. doi:10.1037/h0021505.
  31. ^ Greenspun, Roger (June 24, 1971). "'Klute,' a Thriller with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  32. ^ Kehr, Dave (October 26, 1985). "Klute". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  33. ^ a b "The 44th Academy Awards". Academy Awards. Archived from the original on November 12, 2014.
  34. ^ "Film in 1972". British Academy Film Awards. Archived from the original on May 2, 2013.
  35. ^ a b "Klute". Golden Globe Awards. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  36. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1970–79". Kansas City Film Critics Circle. December 14, 2013. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014.
  37. ^ Thompson, Howard (December 30, 1971). "'Claire's Knee,' Jane Fonda and Finch Picked by National Critics". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  38. ^ Weiler, A. H. (December 29, 1971). "'Clockwork Orange' Wins Critics' Prize". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  39. ^ Jawetz, Gil (February 11, 2002). "Klute". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.
  40. ^ Bowen, Chuck (August 8, 2019). "Blu-ray Review: Alan J. Pakula's Klute on the Criterion Collection". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on May 29, 2023.


  • Dean, Karen Gai (2003). Knight, Peter (ed.). Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-576-07812-9.
  • Kachmar, Diane C. (2015). Roy Scheider: A Film Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-60903-4.
  • LoBrutto, Vincent (2021). The Seventies: The Decade That Changed American Film Forever. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-538-13719-2.
  • McSweeney, Terence (2020). ""There Will Be No Questions": 1970s American Cinema as Parallax in Alan J. Pakula's "Paranoia Trilogy"". In Lennard, Dominic; Palmer, R. Barton; Pomerance, Murray (eds.). The Other Hollywood Renaissance. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 250–264. ISBN 978-1-474-44265-7.
  • Parish, James Robert (1990). The Great Cop Pictures. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-810-82316-7.
  • Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (Third ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 978-0-879-51479-2.
  • Thomson, David (2009). The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02009-6.

External links[edit]