Sweet charity and the multitude of sins in New Hollywood, the square from Cabbageville and the courtesan who's afraid of the dark. The line of thought derives from The Big Heat by way of 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, so that, long before the big bad city, even an al fresco lunch is charged with furtive menace. A vanished Pennsylvania engineer occasions the investigation, the lead is a Manhattan call girl (Jane Fonda) introduced in the middle of a cosmetics cattle-call. She's an agent of fantasies, "a nervous broad," a proud and keen thespian—the tour de force she's denied at the off-off-Broadway audition she delivers instead to the elderly john in a garments factory. (Her sessions with a psychiatrist are pure workshop, documentary snatches of Fonda hungrily figuring out a character's liberation and fear.) The sadistic culprit comes with tape-recorders (cf. Powell's Peeping Tom), the withdrawn detective (Donald Sutherland) is both stoic savior and lost tourist. "Did we get to you a little bit? Us city folk?" The heroine's psyche is New York's to Alan J. Pakula, Gordon Willis gives it indelible form: The image is broken, hooded, chocked with shadows. Loneliness and dread rule the metropolis at the rise of the hard new decade (the dilapidated remains of the counterculture hide in the basement), the soundscape blurs shrieking phones, ominous footsteps, disembodied moans. Fonda's demimondaine navigates it tensely until the prospect of falling in love with the dour knight pierces "the comfort of being numb," then it's off to the pimp (Roy Scheider) on his discotheque throne. Double lives and spectral voices, Charles Cioffi in his penthouse like Burr in Rear Window, the grilled elevator between gothic spaces. "There are little corners in everyone which were better off left alone." The Beckettian rupture gives way to the vacant apartment—a self-lacerating performer's retirement, or a hiatus between roles? Campion has the woozy analysis (In the Cut), Russell the piledriving send-up (Crimes of Passion). With Dorothy Tristan, Rita Gam, Vivian Nathan, Morris Strassberg, and Jean Stapleton.
--- Fernando F. Croce