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  Night Moves Dead In The Water
Year: 1975
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, Ed Binns, Harris Yulin, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Anthony Costello, John Crawford, Ben Archibek, Dennis Dugan, C.J. Hincks, Max Gail, Susan Barrister, Larry Mitchell
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) makes his living as a Los Angeles private detective since he gave up his football career in the nineteen-sixties. His wife, Ellen (Susan Clark) is urging him to give it up and work for a rival, but he knows this would confine him to a life of boredom and besides, he likes being his own man. Today he goes to the Hollywood home of Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), an ex-wife of a big shot producer with a job in mind: can Harry find her sixteen-year-old daughter Delilah (Melanie Griffith), known as Delly for short? She has run off with the wrong crowd and the louche Arlene wants her tracked down and returned home; she's responsible for her after all. It seems a simple enough case, and later Harry goes to meet his wife by surprising her in front of the cinema she's attending, supposedly with a colleague. But to Harry's dismay, he doesn't recognise the man with her, and now he has someone else to investigate...

It's interesting to compare Night Moves with another Gene Hackman film that came out around the same time, The Conversation. But where that work was all about hearing a conspiracy, this one is all about seeing one and being drawn into it until you're way over your head, by which time it's too late for you. The script by Alan Sharp makes no bones about being convoluted, indeed it positively rejoices in how complex and layered it can be, and the result is one of the bleakest thrillers of its decade. On the surface, it's an updating of the private eye films of the forties, the kind that would star Humphrey Bogart, but like Robert Altman's take on The Long Goodbye, its hero is out of his depth in a world where he's the only character with true integrity, even if he isn't aware of it.

As Harry is an honest and upfront kind of guy, he decides to track down his wife's lover and confront him, which he does at the man's home, offering to help carry his groceries. He is Marty (Harris Yulin), and he's not making any apologies, instead revealing how much he knows about Harry's inadequacies thanks to what Ellen has told him. Ellen isn't happy when she finds out what he's done (imagine how Harry feels!), but his first priority is to his case as it will help take his mind off his problems apart from anything else. He visits Quentin (James Woods already defining his screen persona), Delly's "boyfriend", who works as a mechanic, sometimes on Hollywood productions. After, uh, persuading Quentin to talk, Harry has a lead, and eventually ends up on the Florida coast, as much to hunt the girl as to get away from his wife.

This is where it grows more complicated, as what seems like an open and shut runaway case has darker depths, yet Harry, in a funny kind of way the innocent here, will only realise what he's involved with at the point of no return. Arriving at dockside accomodation, he is intrigued Paula (Jennifer Warren playing the attractive older woman and essentially the femme fatale) who is living there with Delly's stepfather Tom (John Crawford). Signs that there is a sick undercurrent to all this is when Tom tells Harry that he'd like Delly to return home as he's been having a sexual relationship with her - "There oughtta be a law!" he laments, "There is," Harry replies deadpan. But she is reluctant to go back to the mother she hates, so they spend time on the water while trying to persuade her, and it's there that a discovery is made: a plane crashed under the sea, its pilot now food for the fishes. Alas, Harry is too slow in piecing the clues together, and by the end of this disillusioned, despairing film, he'll be surrounded by bodies. For a film about perception and misperception, it verges too closely to the murky side, but Hackman in his heyday is always worth watching and it's a film that haunts the memory - that final scene of futility! Jazzy music by Michael Small.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Arthur Penn  (1922 - 2010)

American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.

After that, Penn moved back and forth from film to theatre, with album adaptation Alice's Restaurant, revisionist Westerns Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, and cult thriller Night Moves among the films that sustained his following. Others included Marlon Brando melodrama The Chase, Four Friends, gothic thriller Dead of Winter, and Penn and Teller Get Killed.

 
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