Saturday, June 02, 2018

Night Moves (1975)

Alan Sharp (ULZANA’S RAID), appropriately enough, wrote this sharp crime movie that ranks among the best private eye films of the 1970s. Sharp’s plot is fuzzy, but he and director Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE) are concerned with mood and characterization and playing around with the standard tropes of the detective genre. Actors in every important role receive something meaty to play, all the way down to Anthony Costello’s (WILL PENNY) snickering stuntman and the film director played by Edward Binns (12 ANGRY MEN), who has a great bar scene.

Director of photography Bruce Surtees (DIRTY HARRY) helps Penn establish the film’s grim tone, and, for character, who better than Gene Hackman to inhabit the burned-out soul of an idiosyncratic Los Angeles P.I. Comparisons to the works of novelist Ross Macdonald are accurate with Hackman’s Harry Moseby a close approximation of the weary Lew Archer — certainly more so than Paul Newman’s Archer (renamed Harper for two films).

Hackman’s wife Susan Clark (COOGAN’S BLUFF) is having an affair with crippled Harris Yulin (SCARFACE). Past-her-prime movie actress Janet Ward (THE ANDERSON TAPES) hires Hackman to go to the Florida Keys and fetch her runaway daughter, played by 16-year-old Melanie Griffith (WORKING GIRL). He finds her living with her former stepfather John Crawford (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) and Crawford’s earthy lady friend Jennifer Warren (THE INTRUDER WITHIN), to whom Hackman is instantly attracted.

It wouldn’t be a private eye yarn without a murder or two, and it wouldn’t be a Seventies thriller without an emotionally taxing climax and downbeat ending. Hackman is brilliant (what else is new) in this underrated picture that was mostly ignored by audiences during its original release. A young James Woods is strong as a Hollywood mechanic, and Ward — not a major name — lays it all out for the camera in a surprisingly humble performance.

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