Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: NIGHT MOVES

Director: Arthur Penn.
Writer: Alan Sharp (ROB ROY).
Starring: Gene Hackman, Harris Yulin, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Warren.

NIGHT MOVES (1975) starring Gene Hackman as mopey private detective Harry Moseby, who is mopey because he thinks his wife (Susan Clark) is cheating on him... follows her... sees her with another guy (the always great Harris Yulin)... confronts her... and she gets mad at him for following her. The other guy is some damned cripple with a cane, can’t really kick his ass without looking like an jerk. And his wife says he’s emotionally distant and doesn’t trust anyone (which is true). So his marriage is on the rocks... when he gets his case.

Runaway daughter Delly Grastner (a teenaged and perpetually topless Melanie Griffith) has a washed up ex movie star for a mother and an ex stuntman as absent father. Each lives on an opposite coast: mother in Los Angeles and father in Florida. Harry has to hunt down Delly in the back alleys of Hollywood and the run down coastal area of Florida. Along the way he meets all kinds of fringe people, from Delly’s druggie ex boyfriend Quentin (an unbelievably young James Woods) to her father’s hippy girlfriend Paula (Jennifer Warren)... and Harry and Paula hook up when Delly’s dad Tom Iverson (John Crawford) isn’t looking. But, true to the genre, nothing is as it seems and soon some people die and Harry finds himself in the middle of a much bigger mystery involving film set accidents that may not be so accidental and scuba diving for sunken treasure (which may be drugs, drugs *are* a treasure, right?). Because this is the 70s, the film has an ending more like CHINATOWN than a traditional detective flick... and it isn’t so much solved as abandoned after too many people die to make solving it sensible. It’s dark and twisted, baby!

The film was written by Alan Sharp, who would later write ROB ROY. It’s a brilliant script that is more about character than crime (though there’s plenty of crime), and has a bleak and ugly world view. Dialogue is great, characters are amazing, and this is one of those films like that other Hackman Harry film where you realize just how great Hackman is as an actor. He is a quiet actor who manages to convey meaty emotions without seeming to be emotional. Alan Sharp wrote action flicks and westerns and the TV movies about the USS Indianapolis and those sharks that Quint talks about in JAWS. He also wrote the *awful* adaptation of DAMNATION ALLEY (one of my favorite novels). He died about a year ago at 79 years old, his last credit was in 2010.

The film was directed by Arthur Penn, who worked with Hackman on a little film called BONNIE AND CLYDE. Penn also directed THE MIRACLE WORKER and LITTLE BIG MAN and was one of those great directors of the 60s and 70s, who didn’t really fit in to the Hollywood of the 80s and 90s. He went from interesting stuff like MISSOURI BREAKS to flops like PENN & TELLER GET KILLED and directing episodes of Canadian TV series. Penn gives the film that glossy grit that 70s films had. Not the ragged and often incompetent look of some of today’s indies, but the professional look of a studio film... just with deep pools of shadow and a realistic look and feel. He makes NIGHT MOVES into a nightmare, with poetic shots and a real feeling of foreboding. All of the actors play it real, and you forget that they are actors playing characters at times. Penn makes you feel that the more Harry does to make things right, the more things will go spiraling out of control and just go wrong. And that tricky tone is maintained expertly throughout.

Best Movie Ever Made

Cinematography is by Bruce Surtees, who was Eastwood’s DP on many films like PLAY MISTY FOR ME and HONKYTONK MAN, and Eastwood “inherited” him from one of my favorite directors Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, and I met Surtees on ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ when I crashed the set... on Alcatraz) and Surtees was DP on RISKY BUSINESS *and* BIG WEDNESDAY (one of my other favorites) and CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. One of those great DPs who could shoot films in any genre and make them look great.

Music is by Michael Small, and if you don’t know who that is you haven’t seen many 70s movies. Small did soundtracks for KLUTE, PARALLAX VIEW, MARATHON MAN, THE DRIVER, the remake of POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with Jack Nicholson, and many others. He has a distinctive sound, and when I watch some movie like STAR CHAMBER I know he scored it without reading the credits. Smalll was *the guy* for movies like this.

NIGHT MOVES is one of those “lost films”. No one seems to remember it these days. But it’s a great film, and a fantastic example of the Mopey Detective genre. If you liked CHINATOWN, put this in your Netflix queue and check it out. Oh, it’s contemporary, takes place in 1975.



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