A former pro football player, Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a mildly successful private investigator working in Los Angeles. He's a dogged investigator and good at what he does, stubborn to a fault to get answers, but there just isn't much money in the business. His home life with his wife (Susan Clark) becoming increasingly frustrated with that lifestyle, but now Harry has a case on his plate that's peaks his curiosity. A past her prime actress, Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), wants Harry to track down her missing daughter, Delly, who's been gone for several days with no word at all. Delly is a teenager with a free spirit who's embraced quite the freeing lifestyle. Where to start though? Delly...well, she got around but Harry decides to start in Florida where her stepfather lives a life of ease (seemingly). Immediately though with anyone he talks to, Harry feels like he's getting the run-around. What has he stumbled into?
I recorded this movie on Turner Classic Movies a few months back and never got around to it, eventually deleting it. Just my luck, it popped back up on the schedule a few weeks ago so I gave it another shot. What to say? What an interesting, weird, off-the-wall movie in just about every description I can come up with. 'Night' comes from director Arthur Penn, he of Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, among others. His movies were part of a New Wave in Hollywood, featuring European influences (mostly French) while also blending the general cynicism washing across America. Authority, the government, the system, all of it would come under question in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
The filming style and technique used by Penn is a more natural effort. Scenes transition from one to the next in the blink of an eye. The story itself drifts along as Hackman's Harry meets one person after another, some he's met in the past, others he's meeting for the first time. There is some description or background of these people, but not a lot so pay attention or you'll miss the little tidbits here and there. There has to be a confidence within the story and the director and his crew to pull off something like that. Yeah, 'Night' has the idea of a story, but it is far from your typical, even straightforward story. So in that sense, this is a movie that drifts along in pretty easy-going fashion. It's also intensely frustrating at times because it slows down to a snail's pace where there's literally no story movement. The thing that holds it together...
Maybe you've heard of him. His name is Gene Hackman. The 1970s were Hackman's decade with one classic role and movie after another. Even when he hams it up a bit, he's still eternally watchable. When he plays things straight, you get movies like this. Hackman's Harry is calm and cool and exceptionally good at what he does. His personal life is a different story, like when he discovers his wife is having an affair (with Harris Yulin). Frustrated to no end, this P.I. dives back into his work, seeking some sort of solace in finding answers for his cases. He gets a lot of screentime with Jennifer Warren's Paula, a woman in her 30s with quite the checkered past that got her to this place. I didn't love the movie overall and struggled at time to stick with it, but Hackman helps get through the rough patches in a very solid lead performance.
The rest of the cast is okay, but nothing crazy. Not much in the way of big names so instead we get a lot of familiar faces in character actors. Along with Clark, Yulin and Warren, look for Edward Binns, Kenneth Mars, Anthony Costello, and John Crawford. In two of the best supporting parts, 17-year old Melanie Griffith plays the sexually free Delly while James Woods plays a mechanic who may be up to something who's also a friend of our young Delly. 'Night' caused a stir because the underage Griffith has several nude scenes and even had several love scenes cut from the final product. Woods is already brimming with intensity which works well in several scenes with Hackman.
It's been a week since I watched this 1975 detective noir story, and man, I still can't wrap my head around it. The second half of the movie does pack some surprises as Harry's investigation uncovers all sorts of shady dealings, but it never quite comes together. By the time everything is laid out....yeah, I'm still not sure what happened and why that person is dead or that person betrayed somebody. Confusing to say the least, but even with that said, there is still something oddly entertaining about this not so normal detective story. Flawed but interesting.
Night Moves (1975): ** 1/2 /****