Arthur Penn (of Bonnie & Clyde fame) is one of those directors whose name I so associate with serious themes and profound social observations that even when he directs a simple little detective drama like Night Moves, it's difficult not to attach to it a deep and pithy significance that may or may not be there. In the case of Night Moves, an updated noir bathed in the same chic nihilism as Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974), the "significance" is there in abundance.
Night Moves was released in 1975. I was putting myself through film school by working as a movie theater usher, and I must have seen the film at least thirty times. Everything about it suited my post-adolescent self-seriousness.
|Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby|
|Jennifer Warren as Paula|
|Melanie Griffith as Delly Grastner|
|Susan Clark as Ellen Moseby|
|Gene Hackman as private eye Harry Moseby plays chess with himself (knight moves, anyone) during a stakeout|
Client: "Are you the kind of detective who once you get on a case nothing can get you off it? Bribes, beatings, the allure of a woman's body?"
|A very young Melanie Griffith|
Wife Susan Clark: " Who's winning?"
Hackman: "Nobody. One side's just losing slower than the other."
Uncompromised heroes boring onscreen. Saints and do-gooders always pale next to the more dimensional and colorfully-drawn villains. One of the great things Penn does with Hackman's character is that he makes him so flawed, so limited, so human, that you can't help but get involved with his quest. Especially as it begins to spiral far beyond anything he initially thought it would be. His efforts never seem to pan out satisfactorily, he's unable to save anyone or prevent anything...it's almost like he's Jack Nicholson in Chinatown (1974). But in this detective film, Harry Moesby is a hero. It's just that the bad guys aren't as easy to identify now as they were back in the days when they used to wear black hats.
|"Does it matter, Harry?"|
I like Gene Hackman immensely (The Poseidon Adventure not withstanding), but at this stage in his career he seemed to be giving the same performance over and over. It took Superman (1978) to shake some of the cobwebs off of his acting style. No, if I were honest with myself, I'd have to say a good twenty of the thirty times I watched Night Moves was for Jennifer Warren exclusively.
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
Paraphrasing like crazy here, but Raymond Chandler once wrote of detective thrillers that it didn't matter in the end "whodunit," what mattered was the successful exploration of human nature and the examination of the darkness at the center of man's soul. In that vein Arthur Penn's Night Moves succeeds mightily. The big mystery and plot twists of the film are satisfying (and the film has a pretty terrific ending) but you probably can't find two people who've seen it who are able to agree on just what has been going on. It's a puzzler that works whether you fit all the pieces together or not. What is most satisfying about the film are the characterizations. The film is populated by characters of all stripes that have quirks and motivations that strike me as being uncommonly authentic in their depiction.
70's Sensuality: Fondue and red wine in bed
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Copyright © Ken Anderson