Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arthur Penn's night movies, plus a note on the Internet and the decline of factual accuracy

I've finally got around to watching Night Moves and, while it does not move as slowly as one commenter here suggested, it hits the viewer over the head with references to its own antecedents — and then hits them over the head again with references to its own references.

So, we get Gene Hackman's Harry Moseby playing solo chess in his car as he lies in wait for his wife's lover. In case anyone misses the reference to Philip Marlowe, the lover then taunts him thus: "Come on, take a swing at me, Harry, the way Sam Spade would." And yes, Moseby plays a private investigator.

Or Moseby goes to interview a man on a movie set during the filming of a bi-plane flying low over a dusty country road. In case anyone doesn't get the North by Northwest reference, director Arthur Penn then has the stunt flyer buzz Moseby and the guy he's talking to, making them duck. In case anyone still doesn't get it, Hackman then says, "I'd say we saw the same movies."

Night Moves is thirty-five years old, and that sort of thing must have seemed a lot fresher in 1975 than it does today.

OK, that was the movie's first twenty minutes. Now, let's go watch the rest.

***
IMDb.com misquotes the line it singles out under "Quotes" on its main Night Moves page. The line as delivered by Jennifer Warren is

"When we all get liberated like Delly, there's going to be fighting in the streets."
and not, as the Amazon-owned, user-generated IMDb has it,

"When we're all as free as Delly there'll be rioting in the streets."
(By the way, Wikipedia has still not corrected at least one of the errors in its plot summary of Get Carter, errors I noted on Wiki's discussion forum at least six months ago. Factual accuracy is so pre-Wiki, so pre-digital, so pre-democratization-of-information a notion.)

N.B. IMDb has moved the quotation off its main Night Moves page, but it has not corrected its mistake. You now have to go "Quotes," then click "see more" and scroll down to find the inaccurately quoted line in question.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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24 Comments:

Anonymous adrian said...

I've seen Night Moves twice. The first time when I was a teenager on BBC2 when I thought the brief bit of Melanie Griffith nudity was fantastic and the rest of the film pretty darn good.

On a second viewing years later however it doesnt work at all. The reason for the killings is weak and although Gene Hackman is good his character is underwritten and all the football stuff seems imposed. I vaguely remember that Night Moves was written or perhaps produced by a Scotsman which might explain some of the cheesy Americana. I did like the older woman in Florida though. It wouldnt be so terrible to shack up with her and live by the beach and just kind of drift...

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't quite watched all the movie yet, but my assessment so far is that the acting is pretty damned good, and some of the writing pretty damned forced as were bits of the direction.

I found Melanie Griffith a pleasant surprise, especially considering that she was pretty unbearable on a highly similar role in what I managed to watch of "The Drowning Pool." Here, I thought she was reasonably convincing both as a sexy vamp and as a vulnerable young girl, which can't be all that easy to do.

Hackman was fine. Jennifer Warren was good as the older woman, except when the script or the director made her do embarrassing things. You get an early James Woods performance, which means you get a good portrayal of an agitated man. The guy who play's Hackman's wife's lover is good. Even Susan Clark as Moseby's wife is good when the screeplay doesn't give her embarrassing tantrum speeches.

Sounds like a case of a movie undermined by bad writing, which will not shock you or me or Fetch or other perceptive people.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I see early signs that the football stuff may be imposed.

One is when Hackman's wife finds him watching football game on TV and asks who's winning, and Hackman replies: "Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other."

That's just wince-making. The other happens when the stunt director guy asks Hackman's character "Aren't you the Moseby who used to play for Oakland?"

That's just TV-movie-level melodrama.

August 26, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

Peter

I dont want to spoil the ending but I do think the special effects budget could have been stretched a little bit more than it was.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, they blew all their money on stars, a director, and a writer, did they?

August 26, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

Normally thats where you want them to spend the cash but when you've watched the ending tell me if you were convinced by what happened.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter and Adrian, for me the greatest ever American movie was Billy Wilder's 'Sunset Boulevard'; much of the dialogue uttered by the lead/narrator was the kind of trite, hackneyed dialogue peculiar to the lower class of hack writer, which I always thought was the point.

Hackman's 'Night Moves' character shows early on how dumb he is by dismissing the great French filmmaker Rohmer, so one doesn't expect zingers to come tumbling out of his mouth at every utterance

August 26, 2010  
Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

I have fond memories of the movie after all these years. And not much desire to see it again. How odd.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'm prepared to like the ending now that my expectations are down.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, for me the greatest American movie is probably Ernst Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise," so I may have heightened expectations for amusing dialogue.

I only mentioned one line of Hackman's dialogue in my post, his remark about movies after he gets buzzed by the bi-plane. That line is believable, Hackman delivers it reasonably well, and it's the sort of remark you or I might make in the situation.

I quoted the line not because it was dumb or because of anything to do with Hackman's character, but rather because it was one more of those not exactly obtrusive, but not exactly relevant movie references that I think movies took delight in for a while.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, that's not so odd. One does not want to tamper with fond memories, and all. Do you suspect that the movie may not have dated well?

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Interesting you list "Trouble in Paradise," as your No. 1, Peter; apart from the nationalities of the respective directors, I think Lubitsch was actually Billy Wilder's filmmaking hero; I believe whenever he was mulling over how to shoot a scene he would ask himself "how would Lubitsch do it"?
I love 'TIP', also, and it comfortably made my all-time Top 100
Interesting to contrast the dialogue/narration between the two films

Fred, interesting you are in no great rush to see it again; I felt somewhat the same way until a few months back when I watched it for the first time in some 15 years, or so, and it was considerably better than I had remembered it.

In fact, as that was on an inferior home vhs recording, and a long play one at that, I'll be giving it another look soon, now that I have the DVD, as soon as I get the 'Harper' DVD

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, interesting that Wilder looked up to Lubitsch. After one of my viewings of Trouble in Paradise (I've probably seen it four or five times), I thought it must be the closet thing to a perfect movie ever made. On a subsequent viewing, I thought Miriam Hopkins may have overdone the handwringing for a couple of seconds in one scene. And that is the only flaw I found.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I take it since you love TIP that you also love the Preston Sturges screwball comedies; after I saw TIP for the first time I watched my favourite Sturges, 'The Lady Eve', - which was second only to 'Bringing Up Baby' as my favourite screwball comedy, - shortly afterwards, and I had to accept that the Lubitsch was the better film, - even though it's somewhat more 'sophisticated' than the Sturges, which mixes slapstick with the screwball.

I've only seen TIP once, about three years ago, but I'm sure, given time, I'll watch it a few more times

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Sturges was decidedly more madcap and slapstick than Lubitsch.

It's been a while since I saw a Sturges movie, but the two I liked best are probably "Palm Beach Story" and "Unfaithfully Yours." I remember not liking "To Be Or Not to Be" as much as I thought I would, but that was years ago, and it may ripe for a reviewing.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May BE ripe, that is.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I didn't care for 'To Be', either, apart from the great "so they call me Concentration camp Erhardt, eh?" tasteless joke, but if you haven't seen them check out Lubitsch's early talkie musical comedies, especially the ones starring Maurice Chevalier, and/or Jeanette McDonald; "One Hour With You" is a particular favourite of mine.

I love 'Palm Beach Story', also; perhaps my No.2 Sturges

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't seen Lubitsch's early musicals, but they should be available to rent on DVD, since I think Criterion has rereleased them.

I was always leery of the musicals, fearing they might have nothing to recommend them but the Lubitsch name. So thanks for the recommendation; I may take a look.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

And while you're at it, you might as well check out Mamoulian's 'Love Me Tonight', which is where I first learned to love the Chevalier-MacDonald combo, and its a very inventive film, too.
its probably better than any of the Lubitsch musicals,which is no mean recommendation

I'm not much of a musicals fan, either, apart from the Fred and Ginger movies, but they had great comic acting, in addition to some great tunes.
And the dancing, of course.

As for 'Night Moves', do we have your final verdict?

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No final verdict because I haven't finished watching it. But no matter the final verdict, the movie is worth watching for the acting. It contains so many good performances, even if one finds James Woods' character a bit much.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a Mamoulian movie, but I know that he was famed for his inventiveness -- and that Andrew Sarris heaped scorn upon him.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hackman was at the top of his game around that time; coming shortly after 'The Conversation', which I think was the movie that really got him noticed.

I think Mamoulian might have directed the first true colour movie, - or it might have been something of an experiment, - 'Becky Sharp'
(I've not seen it although I have it on a budget pack of 50 'historical' movies).
But he experimented a lot in 'Love Me Tonight', all of which worked, in my opinion.

Speaking of James Woods, I remember listening to Oliver Stone's commentary for his film, 'Salvador': it seems Woodsy was very fond of his 'creature comforts'; not at all like his more edgy, manic screen character persona.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Becky Sharp" broke some sort of ground in color in, I think, 1935, and Mamoulian also gets credits for innovations in sound and camera work, I think. Sarris's gripe was that Mamoulian misapplied his innovations to the material at hand.

August 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've never read any Sarris, apart from whatever caption quotes of his Halliwell included in their film guides of recent years.

I've just remembered Mamoulian also directed 'The Mark of Zorro', with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Eugene 'Friar Tuck' Pallette, and, I think, Basil Rathbone, which was a fun movie, - almost up to 'Robin Hood' standard.

If Sarris thought 'Love Me Tonight' didn't work, then I'd definitely disagree with him, although I could understand if he thought the various tricks and innovations were too much of a distraction.
(perhaps he would have thought similarly of Keaton's 'Sherlock Junior'?)

Where did Sarris stand on 'Citizen Kane'?

August 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The only Mamoulian movie about which I remember a specific comment was "High, Wide and Handsome," which Sarris said misapplied Busby Berkley's crane aesthetics to the great outdoors. But I haven't seen the movie.

He ranked Keaton and Welles among his pantheon directors, so I doubt he had much bad to say about either.

August 26, 2010  

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