Night Moves (1975 film)

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Night Moves
A small seaplane is about to land on water in the background. A paper card, which is the private investigator's license for Harry Moseby, is partially immersed in the water in the foreground. The face of Gene Hackman, who played Harry Moseby, is superposed, as is the text "What private eye Harry Moseby doesn't know about the girl he's looking for .... just might get him killed".
Cover art from 1992 VHS release
Directed by Arthur Penn
Produced by Robert M. Sherman
Written by Alan Sharp
Starring Gene Hackman
Susan Clark
Music by Michael Small
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Edited by Dede Allen
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • June 11, 1975 (1975-06-11)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Night Moves is a 1975 mystery thriller film directed by Arthur Penn. It stars Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, and features early career appearances by Melanie Griffith and James Woods.

Hackman was nominated for the BAFTA Award for his portrayal of Harry Moseby, a private investigator. The film has been called "a seminal modern noir work from the 1970s",[1] which refers to its relationship with the film noir tradition of detective films.

Although Night Moves was not considered particularly successful at the time of its release, it has attracted viewers and significant critical attention following its videotape and DVD releases.[2] Manohla Dargis described it recently as "the great, despairing Night Moves (1975), with Gene Hackman as a private detective who ends up circling the abyss, a no-exit comment on the post-1968, post-Watergate times."[3]


Harry Moseby is a retired professional football player now working as a private investigator in Los Angeles. He discovers that his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is having an affair with a crippled man named Marty Heller (Harris Yulin).

Aging actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) hires Harry to find her 16-year old daughter Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith). Arlene's only source of income is her daughter's trust-fund, but it requires Delly to be living with her. Arlene gives Harry the name of one of Delly's friends in L.A., a mechanic called Quentin (James Woods). Quentin tells Harry that he last saw Delly at a New Mexico film location, where she started flirting with one of Arlene's old flames, stuntman Marv Ellman. Harry realises that the injuries to Quentin's face are from fighting the stuntman and sympathises with his bitterness towards Delly. He travels to the film location and talks to Marv and stunt coordinator, Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns). Before returning to L.A., Harry is surprised to see Quentin working on Marv's stunt plane. Harry suspects that Delly may be trying to seduce her mother's ex-lovers and travels to the Florida Keys, where her stepfather Tom Iverson (John Crawford) lives.

In Florida, Harry finds Delly staying with Tom and a woman named Paula (Jennifer Warren). Harry, Paula and Delly take a boat trip to go swimming, but Delly becomes distraught when she finds the submerged wreckage of a small plane with the decomposing body of Marv Ellman inside. Paula marks the spot with a buoy and when they return to shore, she appears to report the find to the Coast Guard. Harry persuades Delly to return to her mother in California.

Delly is killed in a car accident on the set of a movie. Harry questions the driver, Joey, and Quentin the mechanic. He goes to the home of Arlene Iverson and finds her drunk by the pool, although not grieving over the death of her daughter. Arlene now stands to inherit her daughter's wealth.

Harry returns to Florida, where he finds the body of Quentin the mechanic floating in Tom's dolphin pen. Harry accuses Tom of the murder, they fight, and Tom is knocked unconscious. Paula admits she did not report the dead body in the plane because it contained a valuable sculpture that has been smuggled piecemeal to the United States. Harry and Paula set off to retrieve the sculpture. While Paula is diving a seaplane arrives and the pilot shoots at Harry, hitting him in the leg. The seaplane lands on the ocean but when the pilot sees Paula surface with the sculpture, he charges the plane at her and she is killed. The impact destroys the seaplane and as the cockpit submerges into the ocean, Harry is able to see through the glass window beneath his boat that the drowning pilot is Joey Ziegler.

My Night at Maud's[edit]

An often quoted line from Night Moves occurs when Moseby declines an invitation from his wife to see the movie My Night at Maud's: "I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kinda like watching paint dry."[4] The exchange from Night Moves was quoted in director Éric Rohmer's New York Times obituary in 2010.[5] Penn himself was an admirer of Rohmer's films;[6] Jim Emerson has written that, "Harry's remark, as scripted by Alan Sharp, is a brittle homophobic jab at a gay friend of his wife's."[7] Bruce Jackson has written an extended discussion of the role of My Night at Maud's (1970) in Night Moves; viewers familiar with the earlier film may recognize that its protagonist and Moseby have related opportunities for infidelity, but respond differently.[4]

Main cast[edit]

Actor Role
Gene Hackman Harry Moseby
Susan Clark Ellen Moseby
Jennifer Warren Paula
Edward Binns Joey Ziegler
Harris Yulin Marty Heller
Kenneth Mars Nick
Janet Ward Arlene Iverson
James Woods Quentin
Anthony Costello Marv Ellman
John Crawford Tom Iverson
Melanie Griffith Delly Grastner
Ben Archibek Charles
Dennis Dugan Boy
C.J. Hiack Girl
Maxwell Gail, Jr. Stud
Susan Barrister
Larry Mitchell
Ticket Clerks

Critical response[edit]

Night Moves continues to attract critical attention long after its release. Film critic Michael Sragow included the film in his 1990 review collection entitled Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You've Never Seen.[8] Stephen Prince has written, "Penn directed a group of key pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Alice's Restaurant (1969), Little Big Man (1970), Night Moves (1975)) that captured the verve of the counterculture, its subsequent collapse, and the ensuing despair of the post-Watergate era."[9] In his monograph, The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman, Robert Kolker writes, "Night Moves was Penn's point of turning, his last carefully structured work, a strong and bitter film, whose bitterness emerges from an anxiety and from a loneliness that exists as a given, rather than a loneliness fought against, a fight that marks most of Penn's best work. Night Moves is a film of impotence and despair, and it marks the end of a cycle of films."[10] Dennis Schwartz characterizes the film as "a seminal modern noir work from the 1970s" and adds, "This is arguably the best film that Arthur Penn has ever done."[1] This remark is telling in the context of Penn's earlier film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which is now considered a classic by most critics.[11]

Griffith's appearance in the movie also garnered particular controversy. The actress shot several racy nude scenes that were featured in the film. This was notable as she was only 17 years old at the time.

Night Moves has been classified by some critics as a "neo-noir" film, representing a further development of the film noir detective story.[12] Ronald Schwartz summarizes its role: "Harry Moseby is a man with limitations and weaknesses, a new dimension for detectives in the 1970s. Gone are the Philip Marlowes and tough-guy private investigators who have tremendous insight into crime and can triumph over criminals because they carry within them a code of honor. Harry cannot fathom what honor is, much less be subsumed by it."[13]

Box office and home media[edit]

Night Moves is not considered to have been a commercial success at the time of its 1975 theatrical release.[2][14]

Night Moves was released in 1992 in the U.S. as a LaserDisc[15] and as a VHS-format videotape.[16] In 2005, it was released as a DVD in the U.S. and Canada (region 1).[17] The DVD was favorably reviewed by Walter Chaw, who writes, "Shot through with grain and a certain, specific colour blanch I associate with the best movies from what I believe to be the best era in film history, Night Moves looks on Warner's DVD as good as it ever has, or, I daresay, should."[18]

A region 2 DVD was released in 2007.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, Dennis (December 5, 2000). "Night Moves". Ozus' World: Film Reviews. Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
  2. ^ a b Slifkin, Irv (2004). VideoHound's groovy movies: far-out films of the psychedelic era. Visible Ink Press. p. 545. ISBN 978-1-57859-155-8. Now considered a classic of modern noir, the downbeat and disturbing Night Moves failed at the box office and was met with indifference by the critics. 
  3. ^ Dargis, Manohla (October 8, 2010). "Arthur Penn, a Director Attuned to His Country". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ a b Jackson, Bruce (July 11, 2010). "Loose Ends in Night Moves". Senses of Cinema (55). 
  5. ^ Kehr, David (January 11, 2010). "Éric Rohmer, a Leading Filmmaker of the French New Wave, Dies at 89". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Penn, Arthur; Chaiken, Michael; Cronin, Paul (2008). Arthur Penn: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-60473-105-7. 
  7. ^ Emerson, Jim (January 11, 2010). ""I saw a Rohmer film once...": The truth behind the Night Moves meme". The Chicago Sun Times. 
  8. ^ Sragow, Michael (1990). Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You've Never Seen. Mercury House. ISBN 978-0-916515-84-3. 
  9. ^ Prince, Stephen (2002). A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbox (1980–1989). University of California. p. 232. 
  10. ^ Kolker, Robert (2000). The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman (3rd Edition). Oxford. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-512350-0. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 3, 1998). "Bonnie and Clyde (1967)". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-08-20. When I saw it, I had been a film critic for less than six months, and it was the first masterpiece I had seen on the job. I felt an exhilaration beyond describing. I did not suspect how long it would be between such experiences, but at least I learned that they were possible. 
  12. ^ Sanders, Steven; Skoble, Aeon G. (2008). The Philosophy of TV Noir. University of Kentucky Press. p. 3. Some of the more noteworthy achievements of the neo-noir period dating from the late 1960s includes films as dissimilar from one another as Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967), and the unjustly neglected Pretty Poison (Noel Black, 1968). These and other neo-noir films modulated classic noir themes into new frequencies. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), and Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975), three of the most accomplished examples of neo-noir of the mid 1970s, externalized the violence and turned up the volume. 
  13. ^ Schwartz, Ronald (2005). Neo-noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8108-5676-9. 
  14. ^ Kemp, Philip. "Arthur Penn". Penn established his reputation as a director with Bonnie and Clyde, one of the most significant and influential films of its decade. But since 1970 he has made only a handful of films, none of them successful at the box office. Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks, both poorly received on initial release, now rank among his most subtle and intriguing movies, and Four Friends, though uneven, remains constantly stimulating with its oblique, elliptical narrative structure. 
  15. ^ Night Moves (LaserDisc). Warner Home Video. October 21, 1992. ISBN 0-7907-1309-8.  100 minutes. See "Night Moves (1975) [11102]". LaserDisc Database. 
  16. ^ Night Moves (VHS tape). Warner Home Video. April 1, 1992.  100 minutes. See "Night Moves [VHS] (1975)". 
  17. ^ Night Moves (DVD). Warner Home Video. July 12, 2005.  100 minutes. See "Night Moves (1975)". 
  18. ^ Chaw, Walter (April 14, 2010). "Night Moves". Film Freak Central. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. 
  19. ^ Die heiße Spur (DVD). Warner Home Video. 21 September 2007.  96 minutes; German and English soundtracks. See "Die heiße Spur". 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]