Night Moves (1975)

  • Directed by Arthur Penn.
  • Gene Hackman is a detective named Harry Moseby who takes on the case of actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), whose 16-year-old daughter has gone missing.
  • Arlene’s answer to ‘Who does your daughter hang out with?’ is “A creep called Quinton.”

Sounds promising.

  • Oooh, crazy! Gene goes to surprise his wife after she goes to a movie with a coworker – except before he can get her attention…another guy meets up with her & drives her away!
  • I feel like…if your husband is a detective/private investigator – maybe you shouldn’t be trying to have an affair. Like…leave that hobby to someone else, whose husband is a doctor or engineer.  You’re playing with fire, dear!
  • Quentin the Creep tells Harry that he last saw Delly (the missing daughter, played by a baby Melanie Griffith) on a Warner Brothers movie set in New Mexico. She left with a stuntman called Marv, & Quentin hasn’t seen her since.
  • Meanwhile, Harry goes & confronts his wife’s co-affairist (a guy named Marty, played by Harris Yulin).
  • Afterwards, The Wife (her name is Ellen) (and is played by Susan Clark) & Harry have it out in the kitchen. The lighting of this scene is super effective – at a certain point, Hackman is draped entirely in cool tones, while Ellen is in warm ones. In an intense argument scene, this helps establish & enhance the conflict – building on the words that are being said/yelled, you’re also provided a visual depiction of the fighting & contrasting, via use of color. It’s pretty neat.
  • There’s a guy named Joey at the bar in New Mexico (where Harry goes to chat with Stuntman Marv) who I think is suspicious. Marv (Anthony Costello) says Joey’s always acted super protective of Delly – but the guy also lashes out at a random kid who spills a drink on him, while he & Harry are conversing. Seems like a drastic overreaction, to me – and you never can tell about those types of people. He could turn out to be very no good – we’ll have to just wait & see.
  • Off to Florida!
  • Harry thinks Delly may be seeking out her mother’s 2nd husband Tom Iverson (who lives in Florida) (played by John Crawford).
  • And well, whaddaya know – he was right. Delly has been found!
  • Ewww. Tom the Stepdad apparently got it on with Delly.

“There ought to be a law,” Tom says, as he begs Harry to take the girl far away from him.

“There is,” says Harry, in response.

  • Delly borrows Harry’s shirt & shower (the first she borrows without asking, the second she borrows after asking, to which Harry yes…and then Harry stays far away from said shower). Delly is not subtle, you guys. She has an agenda, and it is not decently intentioned.
  • Delly refuses to leave Florida with Harry, because she says she knows Arlene, & that Arlene isn’t interested in her as a daughter – only in her monetary worth & trust fund.
  • So…Harry & Paula (Jennifer Warren), Tom’s girlfriend, sleep together, after several days of clear, mutual interest.
  • On a nighttime swimming excursion, they stumble upon a planewreck, and Delly sees some fish feasting on a corpse. It’s really gruesome, & afterwards Delly’s like, ‘Let’s go back to LA now.’ I do not blame her. At all.
  • Great news! Upon Harry’s return to LA, he & The Wife reconcile.
  • Terrible news! Several days later, Delly dies, in a car crash stunt gone wrong.
  • Harry pays a visit to Arlene, and she’s drunkenly sunbathing by her pool, wearing a black swimsuit & black headscarf. That’s a nice touch by the filmmakers.
  • Whaaat. Next, Harry pays Quentin a visit – and it turns out that the Fish Corpse? It was Stuntman Marv!!! And after Harry & Delly left, Tom & Paula never reported the crashed plane to the Coast Guard, like they said they were going to!

Something crooked is a-brewing!

  • Harry heads back to Florida – and the first thing he comes across upon arrival is a dead Quentin, floating in a dolphin pond.


  • Harry confronts Tom & Paula – and after a truly brutal fistfight, Harry runs Tom’s head into a pole.

“He’s still breathing,” says Paula.

“Not for long,” says me.

  • Paula says she got mixed up with Tom because “he was the only man around who got nicer when he got drunk.”

Not a stellar reason to be with someone, Paula. Especially when that someone turns out to be a murderer/loot smuggler. What a dope! Have some self-respect, woman!

  • Geez! Whatever loot they’ve been collecting must be important – Paula leads Harry to where it’s buried at sea – and while Harry’s waiting for Paula to resurface (I’ll believe that when I see it…she seems like a scoundrel, just like the rest of them) – a sea plane flies by & opens fire on him.
  • Surprise! The sea plane’s captain is Joey (Edward Binns), that guy we had reservations about at the beginning!
  • (Joey drowns with his plane, when he goes after a resurfaced Paula (okay, okay, so she was legit) and crashes it (while also, sadly, crashing poor Paula & the Ancient Looted Art Object).)
  • What? That’s how it ends? Paula brings up some weird-ass stone creature-sculpture, and we never hear what it is, or who all was involved in this operation, and why they were involved, or anything – we’re just left with a leg-wounded Gene Hackman floating in the middle of the ocean, with the goofy-ass sculpture that everyone has been killed/died for (or at least…what remains of it) floating on a raft nearby.

What the hell.

  • Ben Mankiewicz says an ending like that is courageous – I, however, say it’s lazy. You don’t have to bother explaining how all these webs you’ve woven actually fit together – you can just leave them, and be like, ‘Whatever.’

It’s one thing to craft a smart, shocking, ambiguous ending, after appropriately winding together the parts that need it – but it’s another thing entirely to have a plot be such a mystery that the thing cannot actually fit together and be solved. That’s just dumb!

  • In his review of NIGHT MOVES as a ‘Great Movie,’ Roger Ebert says: “The plot can be understood, but not easily, and not on first viewing, and besides, the point is that Moseby is as lost as we are.”

Huh. Interesting.

I still don’t like it.


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