Friday, May 5, 2017


Spoiler Alert. Many crucial plot points are revealed and referenced for the purpose of analysis. If you've never 
seen The Conversation, don't spoil your fun. The mystery is too good. Watch the movie and then come back. I'll still be here.

Although Francis Ford Coppola began writing his script for The Conversation sometime in the late 1960s, and the film went into production well before all the details of the Watergate scandal became known to the public (it was released a mere months before then-President Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974); few ‘70s films capture the wary pessimism of post-Watergate America quite like The Conversation. A small-budget, studio-interference-free, auteur project Paramount granted Coppola in a bid to secure his services for The Godfather Part II, a film he wasn’t interested in making. The Conversation is a detective movie crossed with a character study, reimagined as the quintessential 1970s paranoid thriller.
Gene Hackman as Harry Caul
John Cazale as Stan
Harrison Ford as Martin Stett
Teri Garr as Amy Fredericks
Cindy Williams as Ann
Frederic Forrest as Mark 
Robert Duvall as The Director/Mr. C./Charles
Harry Caul (Hackman) is a career wiretapper. A skilled audio surveillance man who’s (ironically) very well-known in the spy-for-hire field of surreptitious information-gathering. A loner and an outsider, Harry is ideally suited to his craft not only because he’s a man of such unprepossessing countenance that he doesn’t even seem to occupy the space he’s inhabiting, but because he lives his life by the credo - "Don’t get involved." Amongst the many complex electronic gadgets and devices in his professional arsenal, Harry’s own emotional detachment and studied lack of curiosity are his most valued. Indeed, “Nothing personal” could be the byline on his business cards. (That is, were Harry the type to use business cards. For a guy like him, they divulge entirely too much personal information.

Like defense lawyers who revel in the thrust-&-parry byplay of courtroom skirmishes, triumphant in their victories, yet heedless of the harm they do when their academic legal machinations result in the release of drunk drivers and hardened criminals back onto the streets; when it comes to the gathering private information, Harry sees himself simply as a techie problem-solver. He enjoys solving the strategic and electronic puzzles posed by his job, but he never gives a thought as to why his clients want his services, how they intend to use the sensitive material he provides, or whether or not he is in any way culpable for any misfortune that might befall others as a result of his actions. 
"I am in no way responsible" and "It has nothing to do with me" are his professional mantras.

But unless one is a sociopath, indifference to human suffering always comes at a price. And for Harry (a man haunted by the memory of the part his work played in bringing about the brutal torture deaths of an entire family) the price is that he has become a man who strives not to be seen or known by others. Chiefly because he wishes he didn’t have to see or know anything about himself. 
Nowhere Man
Harry’s trademark professional detachment is put to the test when a logistically complex, otherwise routine surveillance job (involving the recording of a conversation between a man and a woman in San Francisco’s crowded Union Square) unearths a probable murder plot. In listening and re-listening to his recording of what on the surface sounds like a wholly innocuous conversation between two clandestine young lovers (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), Harry comes to believe, with mounting certainty, that he is once again in a situation where the plying of his trade will bring about the deaths of innocent people—in this instance, a young couple who both speak as though they live in dire fear of a mysterious individual.

Compelled by equal parts empathy (the woman reminds him of Amy, his neglected girlfriend), the dread of history repeating itself, and the chance for (self)absolution; Harry breaks his cardinal rule of not allowing himself to feel anything about the subjects of his surveillance work. Devoid of any clear plan of action, he resolves to do what he can to prevent the occurrence of what he suspects and deeply dreads. 
As Harry Caul delves deeper into an investigation of the mystery, The Conversation chillingly reveals that there’s more to matters of comprehension, interpretation, and perception than meets the ear.
"He'd kill us if he had the chance."
The virtuoso opening sequence was shot by cinematographer Haskell Wexler (although Bill Butler shot the rest of the film). The contributions of film editor Richard Chew and the brilliant Oscar-nominated sound work of Walter Murch & Art Rochester can't be overstated.

If post-Depression-era films are typified by their reinforcement of the principle that the individual and common man can still wield power and influence over systemic corruption (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Meet John Doe); then post-Watergate cinema hammered home the impotence of the average man in the face of widespread moral decay and venality. The Vietnam War and Watergate forced America to lose its illusions about itself. Thus, '60s films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, then later, the ‘70s films The Parallax View and Chinatown (both released the same year as The Conversation) all supported the notion that no matter what one does, the decks are stacked, the die is cast, and individual intervention is futile in the face of evil's ascendancy.

In sharing themes having to do with the unreliability of what is superficially seen and heard, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown has a lot in common with The Conversation. Both lead characters (Jack Nicholson’s private eye/Gene Hackman’s wiretap expert) are introduced as individuals inflicted with a kind of moral cynicism born of past events wherein their actions inadvertently brought about the deaths of others. They are also characters whose fortunes only take a turn for the worse after they've abandoned their cynicism, developed a conscience, and seek redemption through the current correction of past errors. 
Allen Garfield as William P. "Call me Bernie" Moran

The Conversation’s Harry Caul is the living embodiment of Vietnam America: a willing, guilt-ridden participant in morally dubious activity who rationalizes the sometimes deadly ramifications of his actions by deluding himself that they have nothing whatsoever to do with him. This spiritual deal-with-the-devil clearly plagues the devoutly religious Harry in his day-to-day life, resulting in his living a paranoid, loner’s existence of arms-distance friendships, inarticulate romances, and a near-constant suspicion of the motives of others.
Elizabeth MacRae as Meredith
(Best known to folks of my generation as Lou-Ann Poovie,
Jim Nabors' southern-fried girlfriend on Gomer Pyle: USMC)

But Harry’s Achilles heel and tragic flaw—despite his best efforts—is that he really hasn't become as callous and indifferent to the world as he'd like to be. He's a man who struggles with his humanity (he regularly goes to confession) in a world that continually reconfirms that feelings...all feelings...are a liability and source of pain. Yet something within him still fights against complete callousness. Thus making Harry's uncharacteristic decision to involve himself in the saving of the lives of the two lovers a simultaneous, last-gasp attempt to save his own life as well. 
What plagues Harry most about this otherwise humane decision to act...what stands as both the source and substance of his the fear that, should this assignment turn out like the other, with innocent lives lost, the result could lead to the irretrievable loss of what's left of his soul. 

"This is no ordinary conversation. It makes me feel...something...."
A prevailing characteristic of the '70s paranoid thriller is how they provide no reassurance that conspiracies aren’t real. Nor do they contradict the notion of paranoia as a rational, reasonable response to a reality of diminished privacy and corrupt authority figures.
Conceivably, as a means of conveying to the viewer that Harry Caul is a better man than his choice of profession would belie (he's more a gadget-geek than a spy), The Conversation establishes from the get-go that Harry is singularly ineffectual when it comes to keeping his life private. He's not nearly the opaque, stealthy, character he imagines himself to be. In fact, it seems as though the conclusion of the film suggests that Harry has not been paranoid ENOUGH.

For example: In spite of multiple locks on his door, an alarm system, and a refusal to divulge personal information to anyone, Harry's landlady not only finds out about his birthday and his age, but manages to leave a gift for him inside his apartment when he is away. This scene, coming as it does after the opening sequence which details how anyone can be observed anywhere, is notable for the open blinds in Harry's apartment, revealing a moving construction crane ostensibly working outside of his window (an element made more obvious in the original script). A point that later plays into answering a third act disclosure revealing how Harry’s mysterious employer has always maintained an awareness of Harry's comings and goings.
Harry grows uneasy when his girlfriend Amy lets on that she knows
 he spies on her and listens to her phone calls
A recurring motif contributing to the bleakness of The Conversation's worldview is that Harry, for all the effort expended in insulating himself, is really the most exposed and vulnerable person in the film. Unable to connect with anyone (not even the couple he's trying to save), he is easily followed, bugged, tricked, spied upon; and, in those moments when he does try to open up, too easily betrayed. In the end, it's clear Harry is both a victim and an (unwitting?) victimizer at constant risk of dying by the very sword he lives by.

The Conversation is an intriguing thriller that builds its suspense honestly and ingeniously. A thriller made all the more compelling by the way it combines the familiar tropes of the suspense thriller with the intimate intensity of the character-study film. And while (unlike many suspense thrillers) the humans take precedence over plot in The Conversation, what a doozy of a plot it is! (In 1975, Gene Hackman would play another self-confronting private investigator in Arthur Penn's Night Moves, a nihilist '70s spin on the 1940s film noir.)
The Conversation is at its most successful when drawing the viewer into questioning the significance of superficially banal dialogue and mundane-appearing activities. The Conversation mines the suspense in its ordinary characters and the gritty squalor of their lives in a way reminiscent of what Alan J. Pakula achieved in Klute (1971). And for evoking paranoia and isolation, the purposeful use of San Francisco locations in The Conversation recalls Philip Kaufman’s brilliant 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
There's a big retro kick to be had in the proliferation of pay phones and primitive sound equipment on display. 

The Conversation was not a success when released in April of 1974, and with that year's December release of Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II, it was all but forgotten by audiences and critics alike. It did garner three Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Original Screenplay, & Sound), but in a tough acting year crowded by the likes of Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Al Pacino (The Godfather, Part II), and Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express), Gene Hackman's commanding and sensitive performance was crowded out. (I love Art Carney, but his Harry & Tonto nomination and win to me is positively baffling considering the heavyweight competition).
All the supporting performances in The Conversation are outstanding, but
Elizabeth MacRae as the sad-eyed trade-show model is surprisingly good and deeply affecting

In Harry Caul, Gene Hackman (2nd choice after Marlon Brando turned down the role) gives what I consider to be the best performance of his varied and very impressive career. Portraying a closed-off character is always a challenge; playing one who must convey to the audience the gradual reawakening of conscience is something else again. The entirety of whatever dramatic effectiveness or potential for audience involvement The Conversation has rested on the credibility of Hackman’s transformation. (And, tellingly, the film doesn’t require that you actually like Harry). On that score, Hackman—with the inestimable contribution of the film's uniformly exceptional cast—is nothing short of extraordinary.
The likely apocryphal story goes that Hackman gained weight and partially
 shaved his head for the role. The latter proving so problematic in growing back that it contributed to his refusal to shave his head for the role of Lex Luthor in Superman: The Movie (1978)

If you’re familiar with The Conversation at all, you’ve likely read or heard about the perhaps equally apocryphal story about a fortuitous transcription error that resulted in the original last name of Gene Hackman’s character being changed from Call (perhaps a little too on-the-nose for a serious film about a wiretapper) to the homophonous and oh-so evocative Caul. Caul is the name for the transparent protective membrane surrounding a fetus. Not one to spit in the eye of serendipity, Coppola builds upon this happy spelling error and uses it as both an allusive reference to Harry’s overly self-protective personality, and a springboard for a series of recurring visual motifs dramatizing the human instinct to emotionally insulate. 
Rain or shine,  the emotionally embryonic Harry is rarely seen without 
his "protective" transparent plastic raincoat
The motif of protective yet transparent membranes simultaneously protecting and isolating individuals is further conveyed in The Conversation's use of obfuscating veils of semi-transparent surfaces. The whole blurred vision effect is suggestive of Harry not really having a clear perspective of what he's getting himself involved in. 

Not Getting a Clear Picture of Things
Hackman is filmed through a plastic sheet in this scene depicting Harry having a cagey conversation with an untrustworthy colleague (Garfield).
The crucial details of a harrowing event are obscured behind a gauze curtain
A glass partition  prevents intervention while revealing only enough to horrify
A figure lies shrouded in a membrane of clear plastic

Coppola and cinematographer Bill Butler (Demon Seed) frequently rely on wide-angle shots to cut the frame into sections, dramatically emphasizing The Conversation's themes of isolation, loneliness, and the inability to communicate or emotionally connect.
The wide-angle perspective and strong vertical lines created by the support beams in Harry's vast warehouse workspace create a sense of  emotional desolation while simultaneously conveying a feeling of being hemmed in 
In this office set, vertical lines once again create isolated frames distancing the characters from one another. Meanwhile, the membrane motif is recalled by the clear plastic window shades, the central image dominated by an instrument of privacy invaded (the telescope)
Separate, Yet Connected
In one of my favorite images from the film, Harry stands on the balcony of the Jack Tar Hotel
in San Francisco, its design and layout create a wall of isolated, sealed-off cubicles

Beyond its obvious Watergate-era appeal and glimpse into a cultural zeitgeist I still remember vividly, I have to say that what most makes The Conversation a film I can rewatch endlessly (per my tendency to gravitate to films from which I can glean insights into the human condition) is that it is a powerful and persuasive allegory about the risks of allowing oneself to be vulnerable.
Characters in The Conversation are fond of repeating phrases like “You’re not supposed to feel anything” and “Nothing personal”; but as (I hope) we all know, life is very personal, and any attempt to connect authentically with another human being is fraught with risk. It hurts; it’s messy; it invades your space and disrupts order; it leaves you exposed to betrayal, misunderstanding, and rejection. And worst of all, it comes with no guarantees. On the contrary, it comes with the unequivocal assurance that the closer you get to someone…the better they know you…the more open and exposed you allow yourself to be...the greater the potential for them to do you harm.
But what of the alternative? Is it possible to exist among others with life’s only objective being the hope that your path never intersects with another? That “nothing personal” transpires to invade your heart and cause you pain? As Harry Caul learns, not only does one embark on a course of self-isolation at the risk of losing one's soul and humanity, but the biggest irony of all is how life has a way of happening to you no matter how diligently you try to keep it at bay. As the saying goes, no one here gets out alive.
The Conversation is a peerless ‘70s paranoia thriller, one certainly not lacking in present-day parallels. But the film's paranoia/conspiracy theme is but one of the many layers making up this intelligent, superbly-crafted film. Like the audio tapes that plague Harry throughout the movie, The Conversation imparts more information and more insights the more you watch it.

The stationery letterhead for Coppola's American Zoetrope San Francisco offices when they were housed in the Columbus Tower on Kearny Street. Someone familiar with Coppola's history can confirm, but I remember reading somewhere that the raised, circular letterhead graphic (depicting a dog with a camera in the center of a plate) is from a child's dish set from Coppola's youth or that of his father.

Elizabeth MacRae in a 1967 episode from the 3rd season of the TV series
 Gomer Pyle: USMC highlighting the character of aspiring vocalist Lou-Ann Poovie

Professional mime Robert Shields,  a real-life annoyance, er...I mean, entertainer in San Francisco's Union Square when I was a kid, appears as himself in the film's opening sequence. Unusual for a mime, Shields went on to considerable show business success in later years, appearing on TV variety shows and, in 1977 teaming with wife and fellow mime Lorene Yarnell in their own 60-minute weekly variety series "Shields & Yarnell" on CBS. 

The Conversation on DVD & Blu-Ray
I haven't heard the commentary Francis Ford Coppola supplies for the most recent DVD release of The Conversation, but from what I've read, it offers a wealth of info about the making of the film (e.g., Harrison Ford got a bead on his character when Coppola informed him that Martin Stett was gay). Of particular interest for me are the things that were cut from the final film: 1) Harry is revealed to be the secret owner of the apartment building he occupies, 2) He is plagued by overly-friendly neighbors, 3) There was a subplot involving a niece [Mackenzie Phillips], and 4) The betrayal Harry suffers at the hands of a character turns out to not be as conspiratorially sinister as it appears to be in the finished film.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2017


  1. Wow, what a cast. I didn't know Harrison Ford was in this too, and Cindy Williams actually did something besides American Graffiti and L & S. Not being a Gene Hackman fan I avoided this movie like the plague but your (once again) great essay gives me the motivation to check it out. It's on Amazon for a song. LOL on Robert Shields. I wonder how many times he's gotten punched in the face, not that that's a good thing of course.

    1. Hello, Loulou
      Yes, the cast is really something,isn't it? Before obscene levels of fame and fortune derailed Coppola and George Lucas from the kind of independent, people-based films they professed to be most interested in making, they shared a kind of mini-repertory company of players they used in their early films.
      It's nice seeing a big star like Hackman underplay (you've got to tell me sometime why he's not much of a favorite. I tend to like him depending on the role), or Harrison Ford in a small role against "type."
      And you mentioned Cindy Williams: I take it you've never seen her singing and dancing in "The First Nudie Musical"? (Very '70s movie, and not necessarily in a good way)
      I avoided "The Conversation" for years as well. I thought it was just going to be just another detective thriller. Then I saw it at a revival theater in the 80s and was so pissed I missed seeing it when it first came out. I was bowled over and very nicely surprised.

      And yes, Robert Shields...violence is never good, but mimes are sort of asking for it, anyway, aren't they? Like clowns.
      Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed the essay!

  2. Hi Ken,

    It’s spooky how often our movie viewings are syncing up. Last week I got a handful of 1970s films on sale on DVD and this was one of them. I had never seen The Conversation before but it was an amazing movie. We’ve talked before about how the 1970s were a particularly fertile time for movies and this is a great example of what was possible then. This story could certainly be told in film today but not in this way. The low-key but pervasive dread and the grim, almost hopeless feel of the ending would surely be replaced with a more flamboyant paranoia, with lots of chances for scenery chewing, and a car chase or two. The scene towards the end where Gene Hackman tries to get past the security guards and they just carry him down the stairs and let him walk out of the building is a chilling example of how ineffectual the villains think he is. And they are right.

    Your screen grabs, as always, are excellent and do a fine job of highlighting the visual excellence of the movie. But as good as the movie looked, I though the sound design was stellar. The scenes where Gene Hackman was working on the tapes trying to isolate the voices was masterful. I loved the way that as the words became clearer and easier to understand their meanings became more ambiguous. It takes a great director to make a scene of a middle-aged balding man fiddling around with tape recorders feel so tense and thilling.

    And, as you mentioned, the cast was wonderful. Elizabeth McRae reminded me a bit of Art Carney in The Late Show, of how with just a subtle change of inflection an actor known for comedy can deliver a performance of depth and sadness. The scene at the convention when she was demonstrating the phone was wonderful. I loved how when she was demonstrating the phone she balanced the flirty sexiness of a model with thinly disguised contempt for everyone who was watching her. I want to know more of her story.

    The scenes of 1970s San Francisco were a nice bonus. My grandmother used to take the family to the City of Paris every December to look of the Christmas tree in the rotunda before our annual viewing of The Nutcracker. And while I do understand your antipathy towards mimes, I do want to offer a weak defense of Robert Shields. The brief period that Robert Shields was working in Union Square was something. I saw him a handful of times back then and he did a lot more than just mimic the people walking past. He would create little vignettes that he would play with the onlookers and more often than not they were wonderful. He was careful not to mock the participants and he himself was usually the butt of the humor. But as he became more famous the tenor of the crowd changed. More people began showing up who wanted to be part of the act, and the spark went out. Sadly, that brief moment when one talented man figured out a way to successfully perform mime in an improvised, public setting has led to armies of semi-talented folks pulling unseen ropes and trying to get out of invisible boxes on the sidewalk where I’m trying to walk. Robert Shields didn’t ask for mimes to become a public scourge but he did inspire them and one day he will have to answer for that.


    1. Hi Michael
      Nice to read such a thoughtful take on one of my favorite movies. I especially cite your comment regarding how a film like this would certainly be made today, but that its low-key elements would certainly be dramatized. They always have "ordinary" men behaving in insanely superhuman ways in movies (Die Hard comes to mind). One of the reasons I like "The Conversation" so much and why it stands out as one of the few male-centric films among my favorites, is due to its lack of stroking the male ego. Harry is shown to be vulnerable and conflicted, and his response to crisis (the marvelous scene in the hotel room where he tries to blot out all sound) is confined to very human scale. No macho grandstanding. The confrontation with the security guards you mentioned is a perfect example; it plays out like it would in real life. Nowadays I could see Johnny Depp or tom Cruise punching out these guys and racing up the stairs in victory.

      And indeed, the sound mixing is almost the real star (or co-star) of the film. it carries us along in an almost Hitchcockian way, making us hear things as harry does, revealing information only as he gets it, creating this enormous bond of identification. it's really masterful how cinematic it is. I recently saw "Personal Shopper" a film that makes extensive use of cell phone texting as a means of conveying information. It's accomplished, but nothing like the tension and dread Coppola squeezes out of his film. You're so right when you say: "It takes a great director to make a scene of a middle-aged balding man fiddling around with tape recorders feel so tense and thrilling."

      Glad to read that Elizabeth's McRae's performance struck a chord with you, too. You describe well precisely the levels she brings to her performance that make her brief screen time so intriguing. I love when supporting characters are written in a way as to make it easy to imagine them existing outside of the central narrative narrative. Virtually everyone in "The Conversation" comes across that way to me.

      And thanks for providing a balance of perspective regarding mimes. I know everyone can't have as strong an aversion to them as I, so it's nice to present the other side. Especially since you actually remembering seeing him, too! (great memory about going to City of Paris, by the way).
      just brilliant that you just recently watched this! I'm glad you did and were able to contribute such fresh observations. Much appreciated, Michael. If we sync up on my next post, we'll have to look into ESP studies!

  3. Felix Gonzalez, Jr.May 12, 2017 at 6:03 PM

    Hi Ken,

    As always, you have written a fantastic essay. I remember watching this movie in a film course called Mavericks of 70s Cinema (not sure if it was my first time seeing it, but if not it was most likely my second). I always thought the scene in which Hackman is in the hotel room trying to hear what's going on next door was one of the most masterfully crafted scenes I've ever encountered. It's so fraught with tension, uneasiness, and ambiguity. And the moment he flushes the toilet and the blood rises up absolutely scared the hell out of me! Such a great film, and probably my favorite from Coppola.

    I also have to put in a word for David Shire's score. It's so simple, perhaps minimalist (I'm not a musical person, so I'm not sure if that's the correct term), but so haunting. I wonder if you've ever seen the 1985 Disney movie "Return to Oz"? It was the sole directorial effort of Walter Murch, the sound designer on "The Conversation," and also features music by David Shire. It's a notoriously depressive children's movie, almost as much an examination of loneliness and social disconnection as 70s films like this and "Taxi Driver," plus it even features some distorted dialogue effects similar to those heard in this film.

    Cindy Williams' casting is the only thing that truly distracts me here. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with her performance, but as a 90s kid brought up on endless reruns of Laverne & Shirley on TBS and Nick at Nite, I've just never been able to see her as anyone other than Shirley Feeney. Even when we watched the film in my college course, I'm pretty sure we just referred to her character as Shirley in our class discussion the next day!

    1. Hi Felix
      Thanks a heap for mentioning David Shire's terrific score. It really is one of those wonderfully invisible score that adds so much to the mood of a film, even heightening the tension and pulling our emotions toward a stronger reaction to a scene. but it does so in such an unshowy way, you almost have to check the film out again to realize that you were "hearing" it all the time without listening to it. Not to put down Bernard Herrmann, whose stuff is brilliant, but this is the antithesis of that style for me.
      I have seen the marvelous film "Return to OZ" and I agree with you about what a strangely downbeat children's movie it is. I've seen it several times but it's been years. I had no idea it was directed by the sound man for this film.
      Like you, I too think that hotel sequence is rather virtuoso in mixing tension and ambiguity. And the buildup to the bathroom scene is a killer. So chilling. I love how at that point in the film, we're as confused as harry as to what has transpired, so it all comes as such a shock.
      I can well understand the Cindy Williams thing. For all the fame of Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall, hers is the most cemented to a single character. I lucked out in never having watched the show, and so the quality she brings is of appearing to be very ordinary, but sympathetic and guileless. However, given how Williams' look seemed never to change (and she never seemed to age) I can well imagine her being impossible to separate from her Shirley persona.
      Thank you very much for your complimentary words, and I'm very glad you enjoyed the piece. I appreciate your contribution here, adding a younger person's perspective of a very '70s film.

  4. OUTSTANDING essay. I've been a fan of this film for several decades, thanks for the great screenshots as well!

    1. Why, thank you very much! Gratifying to have a longtime fan of the film read my post. Appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  5. I love this movie, too, but you have to do some serious suspension of disbelief on the details of the murder or just accept that everything you see and hear is subject to a different meaning - the theme of the movie. Like Kathy Bates in Misery, my first viewing of the film kept bugging me on plot details: How did they clean up all that blood in the hotel room and only leave a bloody rag in the toilet? How did they get the body out of the hotel? Why did they even go through with the murder at the hotel when they were fully aware that Hackman was on to the plot? Why not just do it someplace else? Why does everyone refer to Duvall as "The Director" when he's obviously famous enough to have a dozen reporters show up at the office asking about his death? And finally, how can a man who's been stabbed to death be passed off as the victim of a car crash? All of these questions and yet I still love this movie. Also, John Cazale and Allen Garfield deserved nominations, too.

    1. Interesting observation.
      I don't know if it was Hitchcock or Martin Scorsese, but one of them made the point that with film, a medium where you are routinely asked to suspend logic via impossible POV camera angles, visual tricks that would have you looking "though" a solid door (as in THE BIRDS); logic or all the pieces coming together is often proved to be less important than people think (The Big Sleep).
      I think aspects of THE CONVERSATION relate to this phenomenon. And yet there are certain films totally felled by an inattention to the hows and whys certain things are done.
      I think stories plot-based told prosaically NEED to make sense; but if a movie's central focus is on the human drama...the inner conflicts and psychological complexities of relationships, I think the honest depiction of the emotional lives of the characters make the practical details of plot less important.
      At least not until after you've gone home and thought about it for a while.