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|Index||53 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When you notice that a boat, on which the detective sees the crucial
evidence, is hit and shot at, and finally 'solves' the crime, is called
'Point of View', you know you should have been watching harder. 'Night
Moves' is the greatest of the 70s American anti-detective movies influenced
by 'Vertigo', Antonioni and Bertolucci; films that used a genre all about
solving the crime and re-ordering a ruptured social order, expelling the
maleficent, and undermining it, to deconstruct the figure of the detective
as arbiter of knowledge and order, suggesting that the world, or a human
being, is not open to interpretation, ordering, patterning; that there are
limits to reason. Most American anti-detective films, however, are rather
heavy-handed in their messages - 'The Parallax View' obscures itself in a
dense murk, 'The Conversation' is full of European austerity and
'Night Moves', on the other hand, plays as a hard-boiled thriller, in the style of contemporaries like 'Chinatown' or 'Farewell My Lovely'. We have a rich Chandlerian brew of flawed, basically decent dicks, femmes fatales, wastrel rich with their errant offspring, and a satisfyingly convoluted plot. And 'Night Moves' can be enjoyed like this - Penn never makes deliberately 'arty' his material. The film also functions as a complex psychological piece, about a once-successful, popular athletic man reduced to peeping on cheating wives (first his clients, then his own).
This is linked on the one hand to the decline of America (Harry's success and decline framed by the assassination of the Kennedy brothers), and to the family: Harry himself haunted by his own mysterious relations with his father, his marriage being notably childless, his quarry being a highly sexed teenager who's run away from a promiscuous mother to a smuggling father. The account of Harry's crumbling marriage and his personal regrets is as moving as his distaste or the paint-like qualities of Eric Rohmer is funny.
But this generic realism, if you like, does not preclude more abstract elements such as the title, with its suggestions of chess, of a game where Harry isn't sure whether he's grandmaster or pawn, or to the playing out of the drama, where the most significant events, both in terms of the mystery and Harry's personal life take place at night, or the idea of the narrative as a dream. For instance, what is the connection between Harry's wife's job as a vendor of antiques, and the central smuggling crime? Is Harry transposing the failure of his domestic narrative onto his professional one, in the hope that by solving this he'll make good the first?
Harry is being led by dark forces (within himself) beyond his control. The Florida Keys hideout of Delly's stepfather (where the first sequence has the time- and plot-suspending atmosphere of an enchanted realm) boasts a sign, '66', which suggest the famous route, one version of the American dream dashed in this film, or more sinister, diabolic, forces.
For me, this masterpiece is all these things, but mostly it is a critique of the gaze, the power to see and interpret that is the raison d'etre of the detective, from which he derives his power and status. Harry's gaze is severely undermined throughout, by being misled, by personal blocks, by simply interpreting wrong. When the solution is revealed, it is certainly not any of Harry's doing - it is brought to him with bloody murderousness. Throughout the movie, we see Harry looking at people or things through blinds, curtains, screens etc., his view impaired.
But it's more than this. In his wife's lover's house (is he blind? I thought he was until near the end - see, need to look harder!), there are trompe l'oeil effects in the windows which seem to transform and distort the visual field we look through. It's a small thing, but, like those little clues Nabokov scatters in his books, its reverberations and implications are potentially massive. This is linked to the cinema (Harry is seen by others through a screen-like frame) that makes up the plot's supposed background (remember, Harry discovered his wife's infidelity coming out of a movie theatre).
This is the perfect role for Hackman as the aging sports star unable to find
his role in life once the playing days are over. He is the accidental jock,
too sensitive to play the stereotype and so finding no sense of belonging.
He has become a detective but he is a bumbling amateur compared to a Philip
Marlowe type. He is shy and hestitant and is frequently made to feel
discomfort by the seedy, untrustworthy people he comes into contact with. He
has none of Marlowe's self assurance. It begs the question why has he become
a detective? Maybe it is partly due to his abandonment by his father who
years later Hackman tracks down only to fail in confronting him. He is
condemned to search for people to whom he is of no importance.
This idea of the lonely seeker is Hackman's own turf. His affable charm conveys a sense of a lifetime's wrongheaded idealism. In the wrong job, deluding himself, looking for a way out. Eventually, he is able to see clearly and see how his drifting has allowed the people around him to manipulate him in their games. Unlike many of this film's peers such as 'Chinatown', 'Taxi Driver', 'The Long Goodbye', we are not left to be slightly repulsed by the lead actor's ways. Hackman plays the everyman character as an affable, amateur sleuth whose hestitancy and chronic lack of commitment give him a fallibility more recognizable to an audience.
Night Moves is an underrated Film Noir. Directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde) it is an absolutely outstanding genre piece. Gene Hackman plays an L.A. gumshoe who is hired by a well to do ex-actress to find and bring home her runaway daughter (Melanie Griffith in her first role!). What seems to be routine detective work soon turns out to be a complicated case which finally ends in murder and mayhem. There are some remarkable stunt and underwater sequences, well photographed by Bruce Surtees (Director of Photography of many Clint Eastwood action movies). Not only Melanie Griffith but also another of today's stars, James Woods, gave his screen debut in this film. See it, it is worth the while!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's a finely made movie, beginning with Michael Small's deliciously
jazzy score which rolls along under the credits, using only rhythm and
vibes. At more dramatic moments the theme is echoed by a mournful oboe.
There are touches of Gil Evans and Gunther Schuller in the
arrangements. The score could probably stand alone.
The performances vary from professional to considerably more than that. James Woods is his usual cocky hypermanic self but it fits the role. Edward Binns is a serviceable utility player. Jennifer Warren is given some lines suggesting she sees herself as homely, and it's true she's not gorgeous, but only by Hollywood standards. As it is, she's on the cusp, and she has a face that intimates character, and a nice figure to boot, though her delivery sounds more like suburban Connecticut than the Southern semi-trash the character is supposed to be. Melanie Griffith makes a very acceptable 16-year-old nympho who spreads sex around the way some other people spread good will. Susan Clark as Hackman's wife is adequate. She has an outre kind of beauty. She has a wide mouth and her upper and lower lips seem to be of identical shape. And she has the eyebrows of the Mona Lisa, which is to say none at all. The truly outstanding performance is Gene Hackman's. He's always good without ever being bravura, but here he outdoes himself as Harry Moseby, the sleuth who's going to solve all the world's puzzles. I'll just give one example of what I mean. Watch him during the scene in which he's in bed with Clark, dipping marshmallows into the fondu and telling her the story of how he tracked down the father who'd left him as a child. He's never spilled the beans to her about this incident before. It's an intense scene. But Hackman doesn't weep or pull his hair and pound the pillow with his fist. He snickers awkwardly, makes a few feeble attempts at wisecracks, and stumbles over his words. His awkwardness masks the emotional intensity of the moment. Hackman doesn't feel the need to tell us more than that. Few self-sufficient grown men would. Well, one more example. Watch his response when Griffith, on first meeting him, asks directly, "How old are you?" Watch the way he combines a chuckle at her effrontery with a direct and unashamed answer to her question.
I need to mention Rosemary Murphy too. It would be criminal not to. We meet her as a selfish slut who only wants her daughter, Griffith, returned to her in order to deprive her divorced husband of Griffith's companionship. When Griffith turns up dead, Harry storms into Murphy's house and confronts her at the swimming pool. He chews her out for her all-too-obvious failings. She listens to this while lying on a lounge in the Southern California sunshine, a table full of booze paraphernalia next to her. When Harry's fulguration is finished, she gets uncertainly to her feet, falls against the table and smashes some glass, and we realize for the first time just how drunk she really is. She disses him for his self-righteousness and adds, "Some day I might cry for the little bitch, but when I do you won't be here," and then dismisses him. I can't think of another actress who would have pulled off that scene with such panache.
The same can't be said for the plot. It could (and should) have stayed a first-rate mystery. It's convoluted, sure, but it makes sense at the end. Instead, the writers and the director have bulked it up with "significance." Instead of settling for a well-done genre piece, they've opted for an examination of ontological Angst. What's it all about? There are multiple indications that Harry is overreaching and looking for answers that no one is capable of finding. Now I happen to think that this is a pretty noble quest but nobody else in the movie does. They all discourage him and ridicule him.
Harry demonstrates some tricky knight moves in a chess game to Jennifer Warren and she says, "It's beautiful." I didn't get it. I mean, I get the pun but what does a chess game have to do with the rest of the movie? The movie closes with a visual pun, a wounded Harry in a boat out in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat is beyond his control and is going around in circles. Why? As far as the case is concerned, Harry isn't going around in circles. He's just figured the whole thing out. As far as some banality like "life is pointless" is concerned, the movie hasn't earned the right to lecture us on the subject.
Overall the movie is exceptionally bitter. Except for Harry, there's no one in it who is really straight. It's a bleak view of the society we live in. I guess I don't mind hearing that lecture but I do wish Penn had chosen to resolve the ambiguous ending. Does Harry make it to shore or not? I'd like to know the answer to that. I gave up trying to find the answer to life years ago.
"Night Moves" was a surprise to me. I assumed it could be a far more simple mystery/action film, but the whole thing caught my attention and really amazed me. What a great study in murder, infidelity, cruelty, sex, and relationships between strangers. A kind of film noir with dark overtones and a slow but effective suspense, the story starts as a simple investigation about a runaway teenager, but grows more and more into a complex drama plenty of unexpected twists. Gene Hackman is superb as the rude detective, the rest of the cast is also in fine form, but the real shock is to see a very young, hot (and naked) Melanie Grifith doing a terrific performance. James Woods is also here, with less impact but great to see too. An excellent film, one of the finest 70's underrated movies.
Coming back to NIGHT MOVES a quarter of a century later is a confronting
experience. I was admirer of Alan Sharp's (HIRED HAND and LAST RUN) and
it's easier to see how he'd distorted the American crime movie with the
influence of the European art cinema. Much the same thing is happening in
Sam Mendes' current films.
The process is knowing and resonant and the film shows Arthur Penn at the top of his game, though it didn't find the same public his most famous work. This dark intrigue stuff works, partly because it's too dense to be immediately absorbed and because the characters are so vivid - even if it is hard to believe that all these great women want to take off their shirts for Gene Hackman in his tan rug. It is however one of Hackman's best outings - whether he liked it or not.
Lots of great detail - the contrast between Hackman's study with the black and white TV where sports will kill his eyes and Yullin's tasteful home, which makes us share Hackman's loathing of the character, feeding dolphins, the glass bottom boat or the theatre viewing (which respects the different format of the two cameras for once.) The performances are consistently vivid, reflecting well on Penn, with soon to be stars Griffith (particularly memorable) and Woods running level with largely forgotten character people. Janet Ward, for one, really registers.
Even if it needs theatrical viewing to be appreciated, Bruce Surtees' dim lighting, characteristically shading eyes, is atmospheric but the post "New Wave" fad of dispensing with establishing shots and opticals is now confusing and jerky. The score irritates too.
The line about paint drying has now passed into common usage but I like "blind, Albino, s**t-eating alligators" as much.
I used to use this one to teach screen writing decades back. I rate that a good call.
In Los Angeles, the private detective and former athlete Harry Moseby
(Gene Hackman) is hired by the retired obscure Hollywood actress Arlene
Iverson (Janet Ward) to find her 16 year-old missing daughter Delly
Grastner (Melanie Griffith). Harry discovers that the runaway girl has
a promiscuous life and uses drugs, and he tracks down her last
boyfriend Quinten (James Woods), who works as a mechanic on the sets.
Meanwhile, Harry finds that his wife Ellen Moseby (Susan Clark) is
cheating him and he has difficulties to handle the situation. Then he
visits the stuntman Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello) and the stunt
coordinator Joey Ziegler (Ed Binn) and follows the new lead, heading to
Florida Keys, where Delly would be living with her stepfather Tom
Iverson (John Crawford). Harry is welcomed by Paula (Jennifer Warren),
who works with Tom in a boat and has an open relationship with him.
After seeing an accident in the sea, the reluctant Delly surprisingly
accepts to return to Los Angeles with Harry to live with her mother.
Harry and Ellen have a long conversation trying to solve their marriage
problems. When Harry learns that Delly has died in a car crash, he
suspects of Quinten. But sooner he finds that the initially missing
person case is actually a complex smuggling operation of a valuable
With the recent death of Arthur Penn, I decide to see again "Night Moves", a movie that I watched in the 80's and was forgotten in my collection. "Night Moves" is a different and complex detective story, supported by an engaging and flawed screenplay and great characters development. The top-notch actor Gene Hackman in the top of his successful career performs a detective that snoops the lives of other people and is incapable to see that his marriage is deteriorating. The 18 year-old Melanie Griffith in her first credited role is extremely sexy and beautiful, undressing easily along the film. It is also interesting to see James Woods also in the beginning of career in a supporting role. It is also great to see again the gorgeous vanished actresses Jennifer Warren and Susan Clark. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Um Lance no Escuro" ("A Bid in the Dark")
Note: On 26 October 2014 I saw this movie again on DVD and now my vote is eight.
One of the unsung films of the seventies and probably the last focused film of director Arthur Penn. This tongue in cheek, intense drama stars Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby, an L.A. detective suffering marital problems who takes on a case to find a missing girl ( a young Melanie Grifith) of a famous actress. Hackmans character tracks her to the Florida Keys as the convoluted plot makes many unexpected twists and turns. It's Penn's taunt direction and Gene Hackman, (truly one of the best actors of the last thirty years) charisma which makes the film worth watching. Bruce Sutrees photography and Alan Sharps script should also be noted.
I'm not the biggest Gene Hackman fan out there, but I found this movie on Encore one night and I have to say it's probably the best film I've ever seen. I never really thought Hackman could really act before I saw this, but, man, does he take command of this picture. His best scene, I think, is the one where he and his wife are yelling at each other after he found out about her infidelity. The part where he yells "I don't want Nick's f-king job! And I don't want your job!" is really awesome. But all throughout the movie, it's nothing but a tour de force from Hackman. Not to take anything away from James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Hackman's wife in the film, or the Joey Ziegler guy, all of whom also act very well. But Hackman definitely carries the film. I also love the cool theme music (that synthesizer stuff) -- it fits the film perfectly. I also love how it took me about four viewings of this film to really figure it out. That's a hell of a lot better than stuff like "Armageddon" where there's nothing to think about at all. Today's movies really are terrible -- that's why I stick to older movies like those on Encore and AMC and sometimes Bravo (though they have commercials). All in all, "Night Moves" is one I highly recommend -- but just don't watch it if you're the kind of person who likes action and things exploding for two hours, it'll definitely turn you off. :0)
Night Moves (1975)
An odd convolution of 1940s film noir and 1970s New Hollywood. The hero is a kind of watered down Bogartnot as romanticized, and with less exaggerated one-liners (which film noir lovers will miss but which those who like realism will appreciate). Gene Hackman is terrific, and he plays Harry Moseby, a down and out ex-football player with a drained candor that makes him pathetic as much as likable. He ends up mixed up in a Dashiell Hammett kind of plot, for sure, looking for the daughter of a rich woman and then getting way over his head.
The artifacts of New Hollywood liberation are plain to see: nudity (female only) and a kind of sexed up background even when the plot is going somewhere else. This was for the sake of an audience still astonished that the movies could do such things (they couldn't before 1967) and it's still kind of raw and edgy in a lasting way. It also feels dated, too, making you wonder if it was really so sexually liberated back then.
The trail for this daughter takes us to the Florida Keys and out into the ocean. There are mysterious motives everywhere, and it's only Moseby we trust. Completely. And we even feel him starting to get a grounding for his drifting self amidst these miscellaneous people. And we see a kind of generosity that is based on this selfish need to do something right, and all its conflicting meanings. So eventually the movie is less about who killed who for this or that reason, and more about this man and his quest for clarity.
But clarity has a cost, and the movie will take several surprising turns. Not all of the plot is supported very well. We are led along at times, and frankly told things that might have been better revealed through the plot. It's not a perfectly nuanced drama in this way. These are nitpicks, for sure, because the larger feeling takes over and is commanding. And that's the lasting reputation of the film, that it pulls off this kind of modernized noir world with originality.
The director is Arthur Penn, who's great "Bonnie and Clyde" kicked off the shift into New Hollywood sensibility. (Beatty is always given too much credit for that film's audacity because he starred and funded it, but the film was Penn's at heart.) This might be called the last of Penn's great cycle from the period, and if not the equal to his 1967 breakthrough, it is in many ways more delicately felt and mature. And so in a way more watchable today a second or third time. Hackman is the one great actor here, however, and if there's a key problem with "Night Moves," it's that he almost but not quite supports the film alone. The three or four secondary characters are all of them thin, or contrived to be types, and so it falters.
See it anyway. It surprised me the way "Point Blank" from this era did. Excellent.
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