Sinister Cinema: Night Moves

Matthew Asprey Gear’s previous film tome piled up over 300 pages covering the career of Orson Welles, but this year he’s taking it easy with a monograph half that length. Got to appreciate the guys sitting around knocking out monographs.

Selecting Night Moves as the focal point for said monograph is pretty interesting, since it comes in  during that early 70s era that saw the shooting of Chinatown (a Polanski classic, though my personal fave in his oeuvre remains The Fearless Vampire Killers) and The Long Goodbye (hated it then, hate it now — even having Leigh Brackett writing on it didn’t help). Gear groups these three together as genre-breaking masterpieces, if immediately followed-up by a rash of more regulation neo-noir such as the Bob Mitchum remake of Farewell, My Lovely, notable for the cameo by Jim Thompson (love the Mitchum quote Gear pulls, about how for the role he had to wear one of “Victor Mature’s farted-up old suits”).

And this sub-group dropped amidst others — The French Connection had made Gene Hackman a star who could play the lead in Night Moves (and Coppola’s The Conversation, shot in San Francisco, is right in the thick of the moment, with Hackman essentially playing famous Frisco P.I. Hal Lipset). Lots of prompts for thinking deep thoughts.

A major concern is diving into the careers of director Arthur Penn, who did several high-level movies before the inevitable slide away — guess I’d select Bonnie and Clyde as the uber classic of his run — and screenwriter Alan Sharp. In general, I don’t pay much attention to screenwriter credits, since you can’t be sure the name on the screen did the writing you’re responding to (one example, Joss Whedon apparently being behind most of the stuff that makes the movie Speed so much fun, got his name as a co-writer on one poster, then got his name erased — but he got paid, which I suppose is the point). 

But I happened to pay attention to Sharp’s name, courtesy the brutal Ulzana’s Raid. Another favorite, which Gear blurbs as “a deeply unsettling film containing possibly the bloodiest depiction of Native American atrocities against civilian whites in the history of Hollywood.” Great movie. Burt Lancaster. Apaches. Robert Aldrich directing. (At the moment I’m poking along through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The War Chief from 1927, which offers this charming line: “And together the children, under the admiring eyes of their elders, learned the gentle art of torture, practicing upon birds and animals of the wild and even upon the ponies and dogs of the tribe.”)

And I saw Sharp’s credit on The Hired Hand, which isn’t great but has Warren Oates in it — part of that whole Warren Oates/Peter Fonda/and Company which is an intriguing subset of getting into Warren Oates.

Sharp also got credit on Peckinpah’s last feature, The Osterman Weekend, which I like better than most people. Couple of terrific lines. Who knows if Sharp wrote them?

(And probably Rob Roy is the major movie people might know, with some scripting by Sharp. Not one of my faves, but it did some box office, which I suppose is the point.)

Gear dives into the shooting, pre-shooting, post, script changes (it was going by The Dark Tower, of Childe Roland fame, until the blockbuster The Towering Inferno prompted a name change), actor’s improv moments. If you like this kind of book, you’ll like this book — if Night Moves is your favorite film ever, hey. . . .

I usually spend a lot of mental time on movies, and this book broke open the floodgate.

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