Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
Cinematographer: Bruce Surtees
by Jon Cvack
I’m on the fence with Arthur Penn. I consider Bonnie and Clyde overrated, even when given a handicap for being one of the first mainstream films to show graphic violence, along with its not so subtle commentary on Clyde’s sexuality. I had watched the film two or three times in college, always hoping I had missed something. There are a few interesting moments, but it was always missing something. I hadn’t seen another one of his films until Little Big Man (1970) a few years ago, which is one of the Top 10 Most Underrated Films (a list I haven’t yet compiled, but would definitely put it on when I do), serving as a Forrest Gump-type narrative, tracking Dustin Hoffman’s journey through history, having been raised by Native Americans. It’s one of the few films that portrays the terrifying slaughter we gave to the Natives; a definitive genocide that still goes unaddressed. Finally, there was The Miracle Worker (1962), which was a good, but easily forgettable film about a young Helen Keller who’s going blind. I can hardly remember a detail from this movie other than it felt 50% longer than it was. A great example of a film where it’s best to just pick up the biography and read the story.
Night Moves was made about seven to eight years after Bonnie and Clyde, and falls into the famous Twin-Movie Dilemma, where there are two extremely similar films that come out at the same time - Armageddon and Deep Impact, The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, and most recently White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. I actually found a list of this exact phenomenon, though I’m proud to say Night Moves/Chinatown is not on it (probably because they came out a year apart, but still, this list makes pretty fantastic leaps, as I’m sure in some theater, somewhere, these two films were playing at the same time). Unfortunately, Night Moves is the Deep Impact in this situation.
Like Chinatown, the story revolves around a private detective Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) who’s caught his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) cheating after getting recruited for a case by a washed up actor whose 16-year old and promiscuous daughter Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith) has run off to the Florida Keys, housed up with a pedophilic old man Tom Iverson (John Crawford) and an attractive older woman and former prostitute Paula (Jennifer Warren). I’ve read a handful of Raymond Chandler and a few Dashiell Hammett books over the last year, and the way Penn sticks to the genre is fascinating. Rarely do any of these stories have any self reflection or pause. They are a rapid firing machine gun, giving you bits and pieces of necessary information, with brief moments of hilarious or dirty observations. To understand the formula really makes you appreciate the stories more. I watched Miller’s Crossing while reading a Chandler book and was blown away by how perfectly the Coens created their own film noir story, as though it could have been written by one of the pulp masters.
Night Moves kind of gets there, but ultimately falls short, and only recovers thanks to an absolutely incredible action sequence in the end, as though you’re watching a Hitchcock film. Still, the puzzle is not all that interesting or elaborate and it’s here that I find more appreciation for Chandler, Hammett, and Cain and the films they helped usher in. They were the best at balancing the puzzle with interesting characters in colorful situations.
Continued with Part 2...
BELOW: Worth checking out for one of James Woods' earliest performances
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