Night Moves


1h 39m 1975
Night Moves

Brief Synopsis

An L.A. private detective puts aside his own marital woes while tracing a topless nymphet to the Florida Keys.

Film Details

Also Known As
Nightmoves
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
1975
Location
Florida Keys, Florida, USA; Southern California, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

An L.A. private detective puts aside his own marital woes while tracing a topless nymphet to the Florida Keys.

Film Details

Also Known As
Nightmoves
MPAA Rating
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
1975
Location
Florida Keys, Florida, USA; Southern California, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Night Moves


One of the first things that Arthur Penn did when he inherited the Alan Sharp script The Dark Tower from the director-producer team of Sydney Pollack and Mark Rydell was to change the title to Night Moves (1975). Sharp's script had been named as a coy reference to the Universal Pictures executive building, known in the industry as The Black Tower; in reworking Sharp's original scenario, a mystery set between the strangely complementary milieux of movie-making and artifact smuggling, was to emphasize a telling bit of business in the script about chess playing and the inability (or disability) of its detective hero in seeing the move he should have made. Penn had absented himself from narrative filmmaking (in truth, from creative endeavors of any stripe) for several years, hot off the success of Bonnie & Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970). (In the interim, he helmed a segment of the 1973 Olympics documentary, Visions of Eight, filmed in the aftermath of the massacre of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists during the 1972 summer games in Munich.) Night Moves represented a departure from his earlier focus on lawbreakers - the folk heroes of the Left-Handed Gun (1958) and Bonnie & Clyde, the convict-on-the-run in The Chase (1966), the Turkey Day litterer of Alice's Restaurant (1969) - and focused instead on a tired Los Angeles PI (Gene Hackman) juggling professional and personal mysteries.

Shot in 1973 on the tail of a writer's strike and unreleased by Warner Bros. until 1975, Night Moves had the misfortune to follow Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1973), Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) into cinemas; it emerged during a glut of so-called "neo-noirs" (among these, Dick Richards' Farewell, My Lovely, Stuart Rosenberg's The Drowning Pool, Robert Benton's The Late Show, Michael Winner's The Big Sleep, and Walter Hill's The Driver) films that recalled the postwar noir thrillers but with a contemporary edge. Lost in the shuffle of Byzantine plot mechanics, sundry deceptions, twists, and double crosses was Penn's ruminations on identity and the guttering of American self-respect. The filmmaker infused elements of his own life into the Night Moves script and his feelings of failure within the Hollywood community. Audiences and the majority of the major critics were apathetic to the plight of a private investigator who is unable to solve his big case because he is handicapped by his inability to see his own life with honesty. Nine days after Night Moves opened across the nation, Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) premiered at the head of a $2 million publicity blitz. Penn made one more feature - the similarly maligned revisionist western The Missouri Breaks (1976) - before retreating for a time to theatre.

Seldom revisited but never forgotten, Night Moves has enjoyed a slow appreciation of its critical market share over the course of forty years. Key to the film's happy reappraisal is its atypicality and freshness, a quality gained by willful forfeiture on the part of Penn and cinematographer Bruce Surtees of the standard noir curlicues - the high contrast shadows, the smoke-filled rooms, the canted angles - which would have rendered the film at best rote or at worst kitsch. Hackman's lumpen gumshoe Harry Moseby has lost nothing in topicality over the course of four decades but it is the minor players who sell the story, none more so than Jennifer Warren as the quirkiest, most conflicted, and yet most oddly appealing femme fatale in the crime film canon. (A long-standing rumor maintains that Faye Dunaway turned down Night Moves to costar opposite Jack Nicholson in Chinatown; in fact, Dunaway's manager, Sue Mengers, used a nonexistent offer from Penn as a bargaining chip to win her client the role in the Polanski film over short list rival Jane Fonda.) Night Moves also provided early work for rising stars James Woods and Melanie Griffith. Six months after the film came and went at the box office, singer-songwriter Bob Seeger had a Billboard Hot 100 hit and near overnight success with his - allegedly unrelated - single "Night Moves."

Sources:

Arthur Penn: American Director by Nat Segaloff (University Press of Kentucky, 2011)
Arthur Penn interview by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, Cinema (May 1977)
The Grove Book of Hollywood by Christopher Silvester (Grove Press, 2002)

By Richard Harland Smith
Night Moves

Night Moves

One of the first things that Arthur Penn did when he inherited the Alan Sharp script The Dark Tower from the director-producer team of Sydney Pollack and Mark Rydell was to change the title to Night Moves (1975). Sharp's script had been named as a coy reference to the Universal Pictures executive building, known in the industry as The Black Tower; in reworking Sharp's original scenario, a mystery set between the strangely complementary milieux of movie-making and artifact smuggling, was to emphasize a telling bit of business in the script about chess playing and the inability (or disability) of its detective hero in seeing the move he should have made. Penn had absented himself from narrative filmmaking (in truth, from creative endeavors of any stripe) for several years, hot off the success of Bonnie & Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970). (In the interim, he helmed a segment of the 1973 Olympics documentary, Visions of Eight, filmed in the aftermath of the massacre of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists during the 1972 summer games in Munich.) Night Moves represented a departure from his earlier focus on lawbreakers - the folk heroes of the Left-Handed Gun (1958) and Bonnie & Clyde, the convict-on-the-run in The Chase (1966), the Turkey Day litterer of Alice's Restaurant (1969) - and focused instead on a tired Los Angeles PI (Gene Hackman) juggling professional and personal mysteries. Shot in 1973 on the tail of a writer's strike and unreleased by Warner Bros. until 1975, Night Moves had the misfortune to follow Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1973), Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) into cinemas; it emerged during a glut of so-called "neo-noirs" (among these, Dick Richards' Farewell, My Lovely, Stuart Rosenberg's The Drowning Pool, Robert Benton's The Late Show, Michael Winner's The Big Sleep, and Walter Hill's The Driver) films that recalled the postwar noir thrillers but with a contemporary edge. Lost in the shuffle of Byzantine plot mechanics, sundry deceptions, twists, and double crosses was Penn's ruminations on identity and the guttering of American self-respect. The filmmaker infused elements of his own life into the Night Moves script and his feelings of failure within the Hollywood community. Audiences and the majority of the major critics were apathetic to the plight of a private investigator who is unable to solve his big case because he is handicapped by his inability to see his own life with honesty. Nine days after Night Moves opened across the nation, Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) premiered at the head of a $2 million publicity blitz. Penn made one more feature - the similarly maligned revisionist western The Missouri Breaks (1976) - before retreating for a time to theatre. Seldom revisited but never forgotten, Night Moves has enjoyed a slow appreciation of its critical market share over the course of forty years. Key to the film's happy reappraisal is its atypicality and freshness, a quality gained by willful forfeiture on the part of Penn and cinematographer Bruce Surtees of the standard noir curlicues - the high contrast shadows, the smoke-filled rooms, the canted angles - which would have rendered the film at best rote or at worst kitsch. Hackman's lumpen gumshoe Harry Moseby has lost nothing in topicality over the course of four decades but it is the minor players who sell the story, none more so than Jennifer Warren as the quirkiest, most conflicted, and yet most oddly appealing femme fatale in the crime film canon. (A long-standing rumor maintains that Faye Dunaway turned down Night Moves to costar opposite Jack Nicholson in Chinatown; in fact, Dunaway's manager, Sue Mengers, used a nonexistent offer from Penn as a bargaining chip to win her client the role in the Polanski film over short list rival Jane Fonda.) Night Moves also provided early work for rising stars James Woods and Melanie Griffith. Six months after the film came and went at the box office, singer-songwriter Bob Seeger had a Billboard Hot 100 hit and near overnight success with his - allegedly unrelated - single "Night Moves." Sources: Arthur Penn: American Director by Nat Segaloff (University Press of Kentucky, 2011) Arthur Penn interview by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, Cinema (May 1977) The Grove Book of Hollywood by Christopher Silvester (Grove Press, 2002) By Richard Harland Smith

Night Moves on DVD


Few movies are as ripe for rediscovery as Night Moves. If you want to delve deep into the heart of American moviemaking's rich 1970s, this is as good a place to be as Nashville, Shampoo, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Network or Taxi Driver. Reading between the lines of Arthur Penn's tale of a Los Angeles private detective, you'll find the soul-searching wrought by the national events that led up to that decade and continued to change the country during that fertile cinematic era. In a previous time, private eye Harry Moseby (Penn's Bonnie and Clyde co-star Gene Hackman) might have been a more dashing hero: he'd solve the case, get the girl and end up feeling good about himself. But in Night Moves, solving the case turns out to be inconsequential and the girl turns out to be a foe, not a friend. Perhaps the only place a hero could still ride off into the figurative sunset in 1975 was the fantasy setting of James Bond, but this is far from 007's world.

Though, like Bond's martinis, the characters in Night Moves are shaken. The movie especially encapsulates the psychic changes wrought by the assassinations of the 1960s, the quicksand-like war in Vietnam and the faith-sapping Watergate scandal in chilling, very dramatic fashion. Off-screen, it was an era in which it was suddenly hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The public came to realize that generals and presidents could lie - and did! - and the creeping suspicion that the government didn't want us to know the truth (about John F. Kennedy's assassination, the war in Vietnam or campaign dirty tricks) took root. Not knowing who to trust was a bad thing, but when that same problem became reflected on the big screen after the breakdown of the production code in the late 1960s, it was a dramatic breakthrough to have an abundance of morally complex characters. It was a time when the American swagger at home and abroad no longer held the currency it used to, and Harry Moseby might as well be the poster child for wounded American masculinity, circa 1975.

The ex-jock with the virile 1970s moustache and cool car acts as if he's in charge, but we soon learn he¿s not in control of anything. His marriage is a sham, he realizes, after he discovers wife Ellen (Susan Clark) cheating on him. His professional skills are suspect, as his efforts to find frisky teen Delly (jailbait extraordinaire Melanie Griffith) and then protect her result in the worst for the girl. And, personally, his emotional gauge is on the blink. His flirtation with Paula (Jennifer Warren), Delly's ex-stepfather's lover, leads to a night of sex that ultimately has nothing to do with the romantic sparks Harry thought he saw flickering between them, while the new friend he makes during the investigation, stunt man Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns), turns out to be more crooked than the guy Harry had pegged as the shadiest in the case, jittery mechanic Quentin (James Woods).

The inability of seemingly incorruptible and impartial intruder Harry to separate the good guys and the bad guys taps into another meaty aspect of the best of the 1970s American movies - that no one is innocent. The violent events at home and abroad made purely heroic movie characters laughable. Figures of authority no longer were beyond reproach, and the triumphant "Hollywood ending" was seen for just what it was, a "cop out" in the parlance of the day (if 1976's Rocky had been made during any other period, do you really think the blue-collar hero wouldn't have won the big fight?). Alan Sharp's screenplay wryly plays with the loss of faith in "winning" and the bruised American mentality, especially in the scene in which Ellen comes home to find Harry watching a football game on TV. She asks, "Who's winning?" He replies, "Nobody. One side's losing slower than the other." Beautiful.

Sharp also wrote Peter Fonda's soulful western The Hired Hand, another revisionist take on a quintessential American genre. The amazing thing about Sharp, beyond his skills as a writer, is that he's a Scotsman, yet he had such a clear vision of the changing American state of mind during this period and of the hit American masculinity was taking to its pride. Night Moves is a revisionist film noir and not a neo-noir, due to the simple fact that I don't think any movie could be a neo-noir in 1975. The qualities of film noir were not so well-known by the moviegoing public at this time, and there wasn't yet a second wave of film school grads who'd been taught about noir and started their careers wanting to emulate it, often self-consciously. So Penn doesn't ape the visual style of vintage noir. He and Sharp just place the private eye picture into a new, less heroic time - as Robert Altman did with Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye.

The Night Moves DVD makes the all-too-forgotten movie available again. The disc offers no extras beyond a vintage eight-minute promotional short, the sort that was provided to local TV stations for filler, and the trailer.

For more information about Night Moves, visit Warner Video. To order Night Moves, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

Night Moves on DVD

Few movies are as ripe for rediscovery as Night Moves. If you want to delve deep into the heart of American moviemaking's rich 1970s, this is as good a place to be as Nashville, Shampoo, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Network or Taxi Driver. Reading between the lines of Arthur Penn's tale of a Los Angeles private detective, you'll find the soul-searching wrought by the national events that led up to that decade and continued to change the country during that fertile cinematic era. In a previous time, private eye Harry Moseby (Penn's Bonnie and Clyde co-star Gene Hackman) might have been a more dashing hero: he'd solve the case, get the girl and end up feeling good about himself. But in Night Moves, solving the case turns out to be inconsequential and the girl turns out to be a foe, not a friend. Perhaps the only place a hero could still ride off into the figurative sunset in 1975 was the fantasy setting of James Bond, but this is far from 007's world. Though, like Bond's martinis, the characters in Night Moves are shaken. The movie especially encapsulates the psychic changes wrought by the assassinations of the 1960s, the quicksand-like war in Vietnam and the faith-sapping Watergate scandal in chilling, very dramatic fashion. Off-screen, it was an era in which it was suddenly hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The public came to realize that generals and presidents could lie - and did! - and the creeping suspicion that the government didn't want us to know the truth (about John F. Kennedy's assassination, the war in Vietnam or campaign dirty tricks) took root. Not knowing who to trust was a bad thing, but when that same problem became reflected on the big screen after the breakdown of the production code in the late 1960s, it was a dramatic breakthrough to have an abundance of morally complex characters. It was a time when the American swagger at home and abroad no longer held the currency it used to, and Harry Moseby might as well be the poster child for wounded American masculinity, circa 1975. The ex-jock with the virile 1970s moustache and cool car acts as if he's in charge, but we soon learn he¿s not in control of anything. His marriage is a sham, he realizes, after he discovers wife Ellen (Susan Clark) cheating on him. His professional skills are suspect, as his efforts to find frisky teen Delly (jailbait extraordinaire Melanie Griffith) and then protect her result in the worst for the girl. And, personally, his emotional gauge is on the blink. His flirtation with Paula (Jennifer Warren), Delly's ex-stepfather's lover, leads to a night of sex that ultimately has nothing to do with the romantic sparks Harry thought he saw flickering between them, while the new friend he makes during the investigation, stunt man Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns), turns out to be more crooked than the guy Harry had pegged as the shadiest in the case, jittery mechanic Quentin (James Woods). The inability of seemingly incorruptible and impartial intruder Harry to separate the good guys and the bad guys taps into another meaty aspect of the best of the 1970s American movies - that no one is innocent. The violent events at home and abroad made purely heroic movie characters laughable. Figures of authority no longer were beyond reproach, and the triumphant "Hollywood ending" was seen for just what it was, a "cop out" in the parlance of the day (if 1976's Rocky had been made during any other period, do you really think the blue-collar hero wouldn't have won the big fight?). Alan Sharp's screenplay wryly plays with the loss of faith in "winning" and the bruised American mentality, especially in the scene in which Ellen comes home to find Harry watching a football game on TV. She asks, "Who's winning?" He replies, "Nobody. One side's losing slower than the other." Beautiful. Sharp also wrote Peter Fonda's soulful western The Hired Hand, another revisionist take on a quintessential American genre. The amazing thing about Sharp, beyond his skills as a writer, is that he's a Scotsman, yet he had such a clear vision of the changing American state of mind during this period and of the hit American masculinity was taking to its pride. Night Moves is a revisionist film noir and not a neo-noir, due to the simple fact that I don't think any movie could be a neo-noir in 1975. The qualities of film noir were not so well-known by the moviegoing public at this time, and there wasn't yet a second wave of film school grads who'd been taught about noir and started their careers wanting to emulate it, often self-consciously. So Penn doesn't ape the visual style of vintage noir. He and Sharp just place the private eye picture into a new, less heroic time - as Robert Altman did with Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. The Night Moves DVD makes the all-too-forgotten movie available again. The disc offers no extras beyond a vintage eight-minute promotional short, the sort that was provided to local TV stations for filler, and the trailer. For more information about Night Moves, visit Warner Video. To order Night Moves, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Quotes

He'd fuck a woodpile on the chance there was a snake in it.
- Joey Ziegler
Oh, that's a beauty.
- Woman
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.
- Harry Moseby
That's no excuse.
- Woman
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 Moseby

Trivia

Paula (Jennifer Warren) tells Harry (Gene Hackman) that the first boy who touched her breasts was named Billy Dannreuther, which is the name of Humphrey Bogart's character in Beat the Devil (1953).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States February 2007

Released in United States January 1994

Released in United States July 2, 1975

Released in United States March 1975

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975

Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (Homage) February 8-18, 2007.

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)

Released in United States January 1994 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Tribute to Arthur Penn) in Park City, Utah January 20-30, 1994.)

Released in United States February 2007 (Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (Homage) February 8-18, 2007.)

Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition March 13-26, 1975.)

Released in United States July 2, 1975

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975