Night Moves Review
Gene Hackman’s second film for director Arthur Penn, following his Oscar nominated turn in Bonnie and Clyde (1968), was the classy neo-noir Night Moves (1975). Hackman is cast as Harry Moseby, a former football player whose glory days on the pitch are far behind him. He’s now middle aged, lost his way in life and become increasingly bitter. He still holds resentment over being abandoned as a child, haunted by the fact that he never got to know his father. Now he’s further crushed upon discovering that his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) has been having an affair.
Moseby is scratching a living as a private investigator in LA, taking low level divorce cases. It’s a profession he despises, and his wife doesn’t understand why he persists with going it alone instead of joining a large organisation. While attempting to patch up his crumbling marriage, he agrees to take what appears to be a straightforward case. Faded B-movie actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) hires him to locate her wayward 16-year-old daughter Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith making her big screen debut), who has been missing for the past two weeks. It soon emerges that the obnoxious Arlene has ulterior motives for wanting her back.
Delly’s shifty one-time boyfriend Quentin (James Woods) provides an early lead, revealing that the promiscuous girl has been flirting with a stuntman named Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello) – who just happens to be one of Arlene’s ex-lovers. When questioned about his bruised face, Quentin retorts “I won second prize in a fight”, unwilling to divulge the full story. The trail leads Moseby to a movie set in New Mexico, where he questions Ellman and affable stunt co-ordinator Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns).
The story is far from over. As Moseby discovers, finding the girl is one thing, persuading her to go back to her mother proves quite another matter. It’s whilst staying on the Florida Keys that Moseby is drawn to the enigmatic Paula (Jennifer Warren), a striking woman who lives with Tom Iverson (John Crawford). She has a friendly face, a wry sense of humour and is full of pointless trivia - yet has a knack of a deflecting any direct questions. The exchanges between Moseby and Paula are wonderfully played.
There are indications throughout the film that something far more sinister is taking place, yet Moseby misses vital clues, often preoccupied with getting his own life back on track. These signs are sometimes subtle, like a brief knowing glance shared between characters, while at other times it’s more blatant. For example, a telling scene comes when Delly dives into the water and is traumatised to discover a sunken plane wreck deep beneath the waves, with fish nibbling at a corpse in the pilot's seat. It’s hastily explained away as a tragic accident – apparently quite a common occurrence in the area. At this point, you wouldn’t have to be Philip Marlowe for alarm bells to start ringing, though Moseby just accepts the explanation.
Night Moves serves as both an old-fashioned detective movie and an intriguing character study. Penn expertly keeps it moving along at a brisk pace, crucially keeping us involved. The beauty of the film lays with the crackling script by Scottish writer Alan Sharp, which is brimming with snappy comebacks. A simple line can be so revealing about a character, sometimes letting slip something quite disturbing. It may at times also be interpreted in different ways - even the film’s title is ambiguous.
There’s a scene where chess fan Moseby explains to Paula about a classic tournament that took place in 1922, whereby the black opponent could have easily won the game following “three little knight moves”, yet tragically fails to see what’s coming until it’s too late. This trait seems to mirror Moseby’s own life, especially as he bumbles through the case, unable to see the bigger picture. It takes another inexplicable death for him to finally realise that something far more heinous is unfolding, at which point he’s galvanised into action, doggedly trying to find answers. Only now events are starting to unravel faster than he can put together all the pieces, leading to a shattering climax.
The film didn’t do big business at the US box office when it was released by Warner Bros. during the summer of ‘75. There was of course a much bigger fish in the water at that time, devouring all competition. Over time it has built up a solid reputation, often cited as one of the key films of the seventies. It begs to be seen more than once, not only to savour the brilliant dialogue and one of Hackman’s finest performances, but to make sense of the elaborate plot.
Night Moves makes its debut on UK Blu-ray, forming part of the Premium Collection (no. 95 in the series). This is identical to the US disc, released two years ago as part of the Warner Archive Collection. The film has been remastered, with a 4K scan from the OCN. Presented in a ratio of 1.78:1, this is easily the best the film has ever looked – showing off the work of DoP Bruce Surtees in all its glory. Contrast is much improved here compared to an earlier R1 DVD, with impressive deep blacks. Colours look vibrant, especially during location scenes shot in Florida. Plenty of fine detail is also evident, especially in those fine seventies threads worn by the characters.
Audio is DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono. Dialogue is distinct throughout and no imperfections were noted. English subtitles are included.
Additional material supplied on the disc is a let-down:
Day of The Director (8:35): A vintage EPK, ported over from an earlier US DVD. Penn is shown directing several scenes and there’s a sombre narration, which isn’t very illuminating. There’s no input from Hackman either, which is particularly disappointing.
As with other Premium Collection titles, this comes with four art cards depicting both promo artwork and scenes from the film. There’s also a fold-out poster.
Night Moves was released on 1st July 2019, available exclusively from HMV.