I’m a big fan of private-eye movies and television series. I’m glad The Rockford Files is out on DVD, but I’m still waiting for Marlowe, starring James Garner and Bruce Lee. However, I don’t have an excuse for not having already seen Night Moves. It’s been out for over thirty years, and I bought the DVD a year ago. I did finally get around to watching it, though, and it was as good as I’d hoped it would be.
The story is pure 1970s, as evidenced by the cars, clothing, and some of the language. But it also tells a timeless story of confusion and betrayal, and the layers of secrets that add to those.
Gene Hackman stars as Harry Moseby, an ex-football player rather than an ex-cop. Moseby has been broken down by family problems and the loss of his career, and seems to be barely hanging onto life by a thread. Only the occasional missing-persons case appears to keep him financially afloat and emotionally anchored.
Hackman has always been a personal favorite of mine. He can pull off any kind of role and look good doing it, even if the film is total cheese. He’s just a guy I look at and immediately respect. His everyman stance and his charm just oozes from every pore. As Moseby, he was a well-known football hero, and a lot of his friends still see him as a standup guy, but he doesn’t let anyone in too close.
Unfortunately, that same inability for closeness is what ultimately undermines his relationship with his wife, Ellen (Susan Clark). When he first gets handed the case of the little runaway rich girl, Moseby isn’t too interested. Then he catches his wife cheating on him and tries to lose himself in the investigation.
I liked the way the movie dovetailed back into the movie industry the way some of the old 1940s movies did. Some of the best cinematic detectives have their roots in the twisted and sordid tales that came out of Hollywood. This one has stuntmen and used up actors to season the tale, and it adds more credibility to it.
The Florida footage on the case was extremely well done as well. Director Arthur Penn (Little Big Man, Bonnie and Clyde) manages the Hollywood and L.A. scenes well, then zips the viewer down for a peak at what was then Travis McGee’s tramping grounds as John D. MacDonald wrote his adventures. I liked the rough and tumble atmosphere of the land, the characters, and the twists and turns the plot took while down there. Jennifer Warren plays femme fatale Paula in a haunting and sexy scene.
Some of the most fun was watching a very young James Woods and Melanie Griffith taking their places on the stage. Woods hasn’t changed much, but his presence on the screen is intense these days. He’s another one of my favorites. Melanie Griffith, young and hot and nude in several scenes, just burns up the celluloid.
I really enjoyed Hackman’s work in this movie. As I said, I own it and intend to watch it again. I’d really advise picking up Twilight, with Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, James Garner, and Hackman to really round out a double feature private-eye/noir night. Hollywood seldom makes films like these any more and it’s a shame.