Night Moves (1975 USA)

2705697_origWhat we have here overall is a nicely detailed screenplay and director on top of their game. Still a fascinating film noir after all these years. One of the superior 1970s thrillers, when happy endings were not always the norm. The overall result is satisfying though.

The plot starts in a rather simple way: We have a former footballer, Harry Moseby (Hackman), who now makes his living as a private detective, and gets hired on to what seems a standard missing person case. There is some great dialogue sprinkled throughout this story like this: “First time anybody touched my breast, was a boy called Billy Danruther. The nipple stayed hard for nearly half an hour afterward.” Jennifer Warren (playing Paula) earthy and intelligent in all of her scenes, tells of her first sexual experience, and her feelings about it, with Gene Hackman. What a way to make a film debut! This to me is one of the most memorable bedroom scenes ever because of its simplicity and originality.

His employer is Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), a rather unknown aging actress, who wants him to find his missing stepdaughter (Melanie Griffith). As Moseby starts his investigation however, he realizes that nothing is as straightforward as it seemed; if you add the complication that his marriage has got into serious trouble, then you can realize that he is probably in a situation which he can barely handle. Although the plot is quite fascinating in itself, providing us with several twists until the very end, the secret of the film’s attractiveness lies in its gritty psychology. Director Arthur Penn, along with script writer Alan Sharp, do a magnificent job in showing us how a beaming, dynamically self-confident Moseby, is getting entangled in a situation which progressively drives him to successive depths.

He cannot see clues which are in front of his eyes, and in the end the truth is revealed to him only by mere luck. Even when he finds out about his wife’s cheating in the early part of the film, it is simply because he just happened to be there. Moseby is not the talented detective in the class of Philip Marlowe. He is simply an average, well-intentioned guy who just happens to be a detective, and who has got into something that is well-above his skills. Hackman is superb in his role, as one would of course expect from this very talented actor. He is ideally suited to portray the complex character of Harry Moseby.

I need to mention Rosemary Murphy also. It would be criminal of me not to…

We meet her as a selfish slut who only wants her daughter, Griffith, returned to her in order to deprive her divorced husband of Griffith’s companionship. When Griffith turns up dead, Harry storms into Murphy’s house and confronts her at the swimming pool. He dumps all over her for her all-too-obvious failings. She listens to all this while lying on a lounge in the Californian sunshine, a table full of boozy paraphernalia next to her. “Some day I might cry for the little bitch, but when I do you won’t be here!” is her dismissive response to his rant, which rounds off the scene with real panache. The film offers other good performances as well, including the young James Woods and Melanie Griffith – both in the beginning of their careers. “Night Moves” is also full of subtle symbolism, with Penn providing us with plenty of arty material. Sometimes this goes a bit too far, making the film a bit slow but its still great.

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