By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Searching for runaway teen.
Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a down-on-his-luck former football player who is now working as a private detective. The cases are not interesting and when his wife (Susan Clark) begins having an affair he feels like his life has hit rock bottom. Then he gets what he thinks is just another routine case which is finding the missing runaway teenage daughter (Melanie Griffith) of an aging, alcoholic actress (Janet Ward). The case though harbors many dark and unexpected turns that eventually gets Harry wrapped up into a world of art smuggling and murder.
To me one of the lasting impressions of the film, which I have seen many times over the years, is the way it incorporates nighttime into the story. The majority of the action and dialogue take place very late and makes full use of the sound of the night bugs croaking and chirping. In fact this becomes ‘the music’ for the scenes and helps make it become like a third character as it reveals the darkness harboring inside the characters.
Hackman gives another outstanding performance playing a protagonist struggling against loneliness and frustration while realizing that it may be an inevitable part of life and something that cannot be ‘defeated’. His best line comes when he describes where he was when the Kennedys were shot. When John F. was assassinated he was playing football and still full of dreams, but then 5 years later when Bobby was killed his life had already fallen into an apathetic rut.
Jennifer Warren is good in support and looks terrific during a topless lovemaking scene. Griffith, Edward Binns and James Woods do quite well in their respective roles and the lesser-known Janet Ward plays a pathetic, boozing old broad about as well as anyone could.
The majority of the story is talky, but still intriguing. The only action comes near the end when Harry gets attacked by a seaplane while he is out on a boat. This scene is especially good because it plays off of the famous airplane segment in North by Northwest and is almost as riveting including the memorable and unique way Harry is finally able to identify the mysterious pilot.
The script, by Alan Sharp is overall smart, but does suffer from a few moments where things don’t make complete sense. One of those is when Griffith finds out that Harry plans on taking her back to her mother which she insists will ‘never’ happen, but then in the next shot we see her getting into his car, which I would think she’d resist doing for fear that she would be placing herself into too much of a vulnerable position and he would use the opportunity to ‘kidnap’ her and take her back to where she didn’t want to go.
Another moment comes when Griffith leaves a message on his answering machine that alerts Harry about something she feels he should look into. He begins listening to it, but then shuts it off when his wife enters the room yet he never goes back to listen to the rest of it even after Griffith later turns up dead.
When a death occurs on a movie set Harry is the one who gets called in to analyze the film footage showing the mishap, which isn’t realistic as the police would’ve been the ones doing the investigation and they most likely would’ve confiscated the footage in order to be used later as possible evidence.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: June 11, 1975
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Arthur Penn
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube