Created by Alan Sharp
“Ain’t it funny how the night moves/When you just don’t seem to have that much to lose?
Ain’t it funny how the night moves/With autumn closing in?”
— Bob Seger, who says he’d never heard of the film when he wrote the song.
(Yeah, right, Bob…)
One of the great private eye flicks of all time, Night Moves (1975, Warner Brothers) is too often overlooked these days, if not totally forgotten. But it’s a classic piece of modern-day film noir, boasting some of the best work of both director Arthur Penn, cinematographer Bruce Surtees and actor Gene Hackman.
Want a slice of post-Watergate cynicism and general cultural malaise? You got it!
Hackman plays HARRY MOSEBY, a former running back for the Oakland Raiders, working as a small-time Los Angeles private eye. But he’s not particularly good at it.
Poor Harry. He’s a lost soul, an emotional cripple, a doomed figure doggedly throwing himself into his work. He’d rather solve other people’s problems than his own. To escape the pressures of the disintegration of his own marriage, he takes on a wandering daughter job for a former starlet. Turns out that the subject, Delly, is a trashy little teen sexpot in constant danger of boiling over (Melanie Griffith in her first — and arguably best — role), just like dear old mom, and Harry’s not doing anyone any favors hauling her back to Los Angeles from the Florida Keys.
And that’s just the beginning, as Harry (and the audience) soon discover that finding the answer to one question only opens up more questions in this dark, wonderfully complex film full of morally ambiguous twists and turns and some wonderful performances, including a sexually charged encounter between the lonely Harry and Paula (Jennifer Warren), a woman living in tropic squalor in the Keys with a man dealing in some very strange goods indeed..
“Everybody’s doomed…empty vessels searching for something to fill them up…,” rhapsodizes Barry Gifford in The Devil Thumbs a Ride, “Everyone’s behaviour is shameful, low-rent. Penn succeeds in not giving us one likable character. If that ain’t noir, what is?”
A classic, well worth staying up to watch on the late show, or searching for online. And look for Max Gail, Jr. (Barney Miller) and Dennis Dugan (Richie Brockelman!) in small parts.
- “The storytelling’s a bit unusual—if you’re paying attention to these things, you’ll notice that there are almost no plot moves during the middle third, and it completely reboots into a new story in the final quarter—yet somehow every minute works. Watching it again recently, I was astonished how many lines from Alan Sharp’s script I recalled just before they were spoken, signal that this movie wore a deep groove in my sensibility without my even realizing it, the mark of a quiet masterpiece.
— Howard Michael Gould in 1970s Noir: The Cult Classics (August 2019, Crime Reads)
- “This vastly underrated Arthur Penn film from the mid-1970s ranks as one of the era’s nastiest and most fascinating pieces of business, a detective story that shuttles back and forth between Hollywood and the Florida Keys, with a plot nearly as complex as Chinatown. Gene Hackman stars as a tired, aging private eye who, as a favor to a friend, agrees to track down a runaway teen. But the case turns out to be something much larger: a smuggling ring of Mayan antiquities. The human impulses get darker and darker and Hackman’s character gets pulled in deeper and deeper, even as his own life is falling apart. Ultimately, in one of his best and most unsung performances, Hackman winds up hurting the people he is trying to help. A great cast includes Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, a young James Woods, and a very young Melanie Griffith”
— Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
- “Night Moves dared to have a very subtle plot, beautifully directed by Penn. It had a team of experts making it: Bruce Surtees as cinematographer; George Jenkins doing art direction; Dede Allen editing; and Michael Small writing the music. Gene Hackman gave one of his best performances as Moseby with support from Jennifer Warren, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Susan Clark and Kenneth Mars… see the film and you’ll find you know those faces. It also had James Woods in his late twenties, jittery, brittle, and unreliable, and Melanie Griffith, just seventeen, carnal, amoral, and dangerous (most of all to herself).
No one in the film critic business could surmise why it was not a success. I suppose the country hoped its ordeals were over and was waiting for Jimmy Carter, too scared and too determined to stay in the daylight for Night Moves… It is a deeply upsetting film, and we seem to be ready for it again.”
— David Thomson in R.I.P. Alan Sharp, A Writer Too Dark for Hollywood (February 2013)
- “Listen Delly, I know it doesn’t make much sense when you’re sixteen. Don’t worry. When you get to be forty, it doesn’t any better.”
— Harry gets philosphical
- Woman: “Do you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot?”
Harry: “Which Kennedy?”
The woman just shrugs and says: “Any Kennedy.”?
- Woman: “Oh, that’s a beauty.”
Harry: “Yeah, but he didn’t see it. He played something else and he lost. He must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have. As a matter of fact I do regret it, and I wasn’t even born yet.”
- “You told me fairy tales… about Malone… Billy Danreuther… the President getting shot… your erect nipples!”
— Harry to Paula
- Director Arthur Penn and actor Gene Hackman were filming Night Moves in Philip Kaufman’s house when Kaufman was arrested for the theft of country-rock legend Gram Parsons’ body.
- In a memorable scene, Paula (Jennifer Warren) tells Harry that the first boy who ever touched her breasts was named Billy Dannreuther. That’s the name of Humphrey Bogart’s character in Beat the Devil (1953).
- NIGHT MOVES | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Buy te Blu-Ray | Watch it now
(1975, Warner Brothers)
Tagline: Maybe he would find the girl… maybe he would find himself.
Screenplay by Alan Sharp
Directed by Arthur Penn
Produced by Robert M. Sherman
Starring Gene Hackman as HARRY MOSEBY
Also starring Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, John Crawford, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Dennis Dugan, Maxwell Gail, Jr.
- Night Moves (1975, by Alan Sharp, from his original screenplay) | Buy this book
- “With Autumn Closing In…”
Night Moves remembered by Daniel Moses Luft
- R.I.P. Alan Sharp: “A Writer Too Dark for Hollywood”
Film critic David Thomson’s spot-on tribute to Sharp, from New Republic.