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The Conversation (1974) Poster

Trivia

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Gene Hackman played a former N.S.A. Agent who is a surveillance expert in Enemy of the State (1998), and the images of his character in his younger days are taken directly from this film. Hackman's characters are so similar in both movies, fans have theorized that they may be the same person, but there is no evidence of this provided by the makers of either film.
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As Harry refines and re-refines the recording, he interprets what he hears in different ways. In fact, the dialogue was recorded multiple times with different readings to get this effect.
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The blue Mercedes limousine that Cindy Williams is sitting in near the end of the film was won by Francis Ford Coppola on a bet with Paramount Pictures. Coppola had complained about the station wagon he shared with five other passengers during the filming of The Godfather (1972). Studio executives told him that if The Godfather had grossed a certain amount, they would spring for a new car. After The Godfather became the highest grossing film of all time, Coppola and George Lucas went to a dealer and picked out the Mercedes, telling the salesman to bill Paramount Pictures.
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Gene Hackman learned to play the saxophone especially for the film.
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Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite of his movies.
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Gene Hackman was a fit, good-looking relatively young man when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Harry Caul. In order to personify Harry's weary, aging, and unhappy existence, Hackman grew a pathetic-looking mustache, wore ill-fitting glasses, and had a wardrobe picked out that was at least ten years out of date. Coppola specifically told Hackman he wanted Harry to look like a "nudnik", a Yiddish word referring to a person who is boring and a pest.
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Gene Hackman's character was to have been named Harry Call, but a typing error led to his being named Harry Caul, and the name stuck because Coppola liked how the meaning of the word caul (a birth defect causing a membrane to surround the head) related to the character.
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Reportedly Gene Hackman's favorite movie in which he has acted.
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Coppola had written the outline in 1966, but couldn't get financing until The Godfather (1972) became a success.
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Harrison Ford's part was initially intended to be a small cameo, written as little more than an office assistant. Feeling that the character was one-dimensional, Ford decided to play him as gay, a risky choice in 1974, and personally purchased the loud green silk suit for nine hundred dollars (4,285 in 2015 dollars). Francis Ford Coppola was at first shocked by the outfit at rehearsals, but after discussing it with Ford, was so impressed with this interpretation, that he expanded the role into a supporting character, gave the character a name (Martin Stett) and had Production Designer Dean Tavoularis create an office that reflected the character's orientation.
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Francis Ford Coppola noted in the DVD commentary that Hackman had a very difficult time adapting to the Harry Caul character, because it was so much unlike himself. Coppola says that Hackman was at the time an outgoing and approachable person who preferred casual clothes, whereas Caul was meant to be a socially awkward loner who wore a raincoat and out-of-style glasses. Coppola said that Hackman's efforts to tap into the character made the actor moody and irritable on-set, but otherwise Coppola got along well with his leading man.
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David Shire's original music was composed prior to production and played for the actors prior to their scenes to get them into the proper moods.
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In the original script, Harry Caul was the owner of the building in which he lived. There was a deleted scene where he had a meeting with the other tenants. One of the people there was Mrs. Evangelista. Now, we only know of her character when Caul speaks to her on the phone after she leaves him a birthday present.
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On the DVD commentary, Francis Ford Coppola says he was shocked to learn that the film utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal. Coppola has said this is the reason the film gained part of the recognition it has received, but that this is entirely coincidental. Not only was the script completed in the mid 1960s (before the Nixon Administration came to power) but the spying equipment used in the film was discovered through research, and the use of technical advisers, and not, as many believed, by revelatory newspaper stories about the Watergate break-in. Coppola also noted that filming had been completed several months before the most revelatory Watergate stories broke in the press. Since the film was released to theaters just a few months before Richard Nixon resigned as President, Coppola felt that audiences interpreted the film to be a reaction to both the Watergate scandal and its fall-out.
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Originally envisioned as a horror movie with Marlon Brando.
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Francis Ford Coppola cited his conversation with fellow Director Irvin Kershner about surveillance as the basis and theme of the film.
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Robert Shields, who plays the mime in the Union Square sequences, actually was a street mime in Union Square at the time.
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Gene Hackman's brother, Richard Hackman, played two roles in the film, the priest in the confessional and a security guard.
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The original cut was four and a half hours long. Most significant was a subplot of Harry dealing with his neighbors, who complain about the building's plumbing problems, unaware that Harry owns the building. Other scenes feature Harry consulting his lawyer (played by Abe Vigoda) about the apartment situation, and Harry convincing his teenaged niece (played by Mackenzie Phillips) not to run away from home.
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Due to creative differences on this shoot, veteran Cinematographer Haskell Wexler was replaced by Director of Photography Bill Butler. According to Coppola, Wexler visualized the movie in the more romantic style of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), while Coppola saw it more in the cinéma vérité style of Medium Cool (1969) (Wexler was cinematographer on the former, and directed the latter).
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Francis Ford Coppola has cited Blow-Up (1966) as a key influence on his conceptualization of the film's themes, such as surveillance versus participation, and perception versus reality.
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Gian-Carlo Coppola, the nine-year-old son of Francis Ford Coppola, played the small part of a boy in church.
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The film was one in a cycle of 1970s conspiracy movies, launched by the success of Costa-Gavras's conspiracy thriller Z (1969). Subsequent films included Klute (1971), Soylent Green (1973), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Executive Action (1973), The Conversation (1974), The Parallax View (1974), Chinatown (1974), The Odessa File (1974), The Stepford Wives (1975), Three Days of the Condor (1975), All the President's Men (1976), Futureworld (1976), Marathon Man (1976), Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), The Domino Principle (1977), Black Sunday (1977), Telefon (1977), Coma (1978), Capricorn One (1977), Good Guys Wear Black (1978), Foul Play (1978), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Brass Target (1978), The China Syndrome (1979) and Winter Kills (1979). Hangar 18 (1980), Hopscotch (1980), Cutter's Way (1981), Blow Out (1981), Missing (1982), Wrong Is Right (1982), Blue Thunder (1983), The Star Chamber (1983) and Silkwood (1983) would follow in the early 1980s.
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Harry Caul tells Amy that he is forty-two. The birthday card with the bottle of wine says Happy 44th Birthday. Gene Hackman was forty-four when the movie came out.
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Opening aerial shot taken from atop what was then the City of Paris department store. Today it's a Neiman-Marcus.
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During the party in the warehouse, Bernie Moran (Allen Garfield) brags that twelve years before, he had recorded the calls of an unnamed Presidential candidate, and may have determined who won the election. This presumably would have been the 1960 election, when John F. Kennedy narrowly won the election over Richard Nixon, who was at the time of the movie's production in the middle of his own taping scandal, known as Watergate.
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The character of Harry Caul was inspired by surveillance technology expert Martin Kaiser, who also served as a Technical Consultant on the film.
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Francis Ford Coppola tried to get funding for the film and failed to interest any studio or other investors. It was only after The Godfather (1972) was a hit, that Paramount Pictures offered him the money for The Conversation. Coppola has said that if it wasn't for The Godfather, this movie would never have been made.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any of the acting categories.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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The meaning of Harry's last name, Caul, is a fetal membrane sometimes present at birth. This ties in strongly with both Harry's transparent rain jacket, which he wears for the majority of the film, and also the fact that Harry is occasionally viewed through a translucent sheet of plastic when threatened, such as by his rival during the party scene.
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Walter Murch served as the Supervising Editor and Sound Designer. Murch had more or less a free hand during editing, since Francis Ford Coppola was already working on The Godfather: Part II (1974) at the time.
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One of five cinema movie collaborations of Frederic Forrest and Director Francis Ford Coppola. The others being Hammett (1982), Apocalypse Now (1979), One from the Heart (1981), and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988),
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The lyrics of The Twilight Singers song "The Conversation", from the 2006 album Powder Burns, were inspired by the film.
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Timothy Carey was originally cast as Bernie Moran. Production was shut down until he was replaced with Allen Garfield.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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While doing publicity for Finian's Rainbow (1968) in 1967, Francis Ford Coppola announced that this would be his next movie.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Harry Caul's home phone number is 415-863-1944.
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The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall; and three Oscar nominees: Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, and Frederic Forrest.
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This is one of two films in which Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford appeared together. The second was Apocalypse Now (1979), also produced, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
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Despite winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Best Director awards from the National Board of Review, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards, and the National Society of Film Critics Awards, and receiving additional nominations at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Directors Guild of America, Francis Ford Coppola did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. However, Coppola did receive an Oscar nomination for directing The Godfather: Part II (1974) that same year, which he inevitably won. Academy rules at the time did not allow for a person to receive multiple nominations in certain categories within the same year. Both films, produced by Coppola, were nominated Best Picture however. He was also nominated for writing both films, Original Screenplay for The Conversation and Adapted Screenplay for The Godfather: Part II.
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This is second of two films in which Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford appeared together. The first was American Graffiti (1973), also produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
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Despite being awarded Best Actor by the National Board of Review and Best Performance in a Foreign Film at the Sant Jordi Awards, and also receiving additional nominations for Best Actor at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, Gene Hackman failed to receive an Academy Award nomination for his performance. To this day, critics, audiences, major film groups and publications consider this a notorious snub.
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Cameo 

Robert Duvall: The director who hires Harry Caul.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

In the last scene, where Harry tears apart his apartment, Francis Ford Coppola stated on the commentary that he has no idea where the bug is. Two ideas he mentioned were the saxophone strap, or that there was no bug, and Harry was delusional.
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DIRECTOR_CAMEO(Francis Ford Coppola): When Harry Caul turns on the television in the Jack Tar Hotel to blot out the sound of the murder in the neighboring room, the broadcaster is Coppola talking about Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, itself triggered by a notorious piece of bugging.
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In the last shot of the movie, the camera pans from right to left and pulls back, just like a surveillance camera would do.
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Extra scenes needed to complete the movie, including the one where Hackman discovers that the tape is gone, were filmed on the set of Chinatown (1974).
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The Jack Tar Hotel on Van Ness Avenue, site of the grisly murder scene, opened in 1960, and later became the Cathedral Hill Hotel in 1982. It was demolished in 2013, to be replaced by a hospital complex.
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