Monday, March 18, 2024

Klute and Tender Mercies

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda.
Klute (1971). When a businessman suddenly disappears and obscene letters are found among his work papers, the man's wife hires private detective John Klute to conduct an investigation. Klute (Donald Sutherland) quickly learns that the mystery centers around part-time NYC prostitute Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), the intended recipient of the letters. Bree doesn't remember the missing man, but thinks he could have been a client that beat her up years earlier--and may be stalking her now. More character study than psychological thriller, Klute earned Jane Fonda a Best Actress Oscar for her performance and garnered a nomination for its screenplay. The decision to reveal the villain's identity barely 45 minutes into the movie is an interesting one. Unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, that knowledge doesn't generate any tension. Rather, it robs Klute of its potential as a whodunit (though the villain's identity is obvious from the beginning, so perhaps that's irrelevant). Clearly, the writers and director Alan J. Pakula are more interested in exploring what makes Bree and Klute tick. In Bree's case, they take the direct approach by including her therapy sessions with her psychiatrist. These monologues provide an acting field day for Fonda, though the character insights are strictly Psychology 101 (e.g., Bree's "tricks" make her feel like she controls her interactions with men for a brief period). As a result, the more interesting character is the quiet and always watchful John Klute. Relentless in his investigation, the introspective detective shows his patience as he develops feelings towards Bree and eventually pierces her self-defensive veneer. Sutherland gives a compelling portrayal and it's a shame that his acting was not as widely recognized as Fonda's. She is very good, but Sutherland is the reason to watch Klute--after all, the movie was named after his character. 

Duvall as Mac Sledge.
Tender Mercies
 (1983).  After a night of heavy drinking, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a washed-up, alcoholic country singer, wakes up at an isolated Texas roadside motel and gas station. The owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), allows him work in exchange for room and board. Mac slowly rebuilds his life, creating a family with Rosa Lee and her young son Sonny and even recording music again. Like its protagonist, Tender Mercies is a quiet, slow-moving film that finds emotional resonance in its simplicity. Director Bruce Beresford lovingly captures the rustic setting with the wind whistling gently across the plains. Robert Duvall delivers a low-key, natural performance that earned him a Best Actor Oscar (the motion picture, Beresford, and screenwriter Horton Foote were nominated as well). Although it's a film about redemption, writer Foote ensures that Tender Mercies avoids easy resolutions. Mac's relationship with his ex-wife remains full of friction and his efforts to reconnect with his adult daughter are hindered by tragedy. In the end, Mac finds an inner peace of sorts, but every day will still bring its own challenges so that one has to cherish each moment of contentment.

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Crimson Kimono and The League of Gentlemen

James Shigeta as Detective Joe Kojaku.
The Crimson Kimono (1959). Writer-director Samuel Fuller's once-controversial cult film revolves around two police detectives, one Caucasian and one Japanese, who try to solve a complicated murder case involving a stripper in the Japanese quarter of Los Angeles. Along the way, both detectives fall in love with a key witness, leading to a love triangle that threatens their friendship. Fuller's on-location shooting, in and around Little Tokyo in L.A., gives The Crimson Kimono a vibrant and gritty feel. It's a perfect setting for a quirky film noir and the opening scene, in which stripper Sugar Torch is fatally shot as she runs into a busy street, promises as much. However, Fuller's primary interest lies elsewhere, leading to a plot detour into an examination of the relationship between detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) and Chris, an art student (Victoria Shaw). Joe has to cope with his own cultural norms (his family expects him to marry a Japanese woman) and what he perceives as racial bias from Charlie (Glenn Corbett), his detective partner and longtime best friend. It's an interesting theme and James Shigeta effectively conveys Joe's inner struggle. Still, it's a shame that there's little left time left for the mystery. When it gets wraps up quickly at the climax, I felt that Fuller had cheated me out of a potentially brilliant film noir.

Jack Hawkins as Norman Hyde.
The League of Gentlemen (1960). Forced into retirement, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) recruits seven former army officers, each facing desperate or humiliating circumstances, for a bank robbery. Hyde convinces the team that a large-scale crime, planned and executed with military precision by former soldiers, is a "can't miss" proposition, It also helps that he guarantees each man a payout of over £100,000 (equates to $2.9 million in 2024). Like the heist it depicts, The League of Gentlemen is a well-executed film that grabs the viewer from its opening shot: Hyde, dressed in black tie, emerges from a manhole on a London street at night. While the climatic heist is sufficiently engrossing, the film's highlight is an earlier theft of weapons from an army depot. It allows the always entertaining Roger Livesey to impersonate an army general looking into a fictitious complaint about inedible army food. In addition to Hawkins and Livesey, the fine cast includes Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick (delightful as the second-in-command), and Bryan Forbes (who co-wrote the screenplay with John Boland). My only quibble with The League of Gentlemen is its ending. It works well's just not what I wanted to happen (which is not a valid complaint at all).