Re-watching the Classics: The Conversation

The Conversation is a neo noir film from Writer and Director Francis Ford Coppola.  This film may get lost in the mix of great Coppola films, but it is right up there with his best.  Honestly, the first time I seen this, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about, but after re-watching it, I think I get it now.  This is more of a slow burn that continues to turn up the heat as we go.

The cast is amazing with the movie revolving around Gene Hackman who plays somebody totally different than our hardboiled detective role we looked at in The French Connection and Night Moves earlier on this site.  He plays a surveillance expert, who happens to be a little paranoid, maybe he should be.  He is the best at what he does, but soon wonders if he should be doing it.  He also sees how easy somebody can do the same to him and this I feel drives his paranoia more.

The rest of the cast play small parts, but Coppola seems to have a knack of getting high level talent for these parts.  One stand out is Harrison Ford, this is one year after his break out performance in American Graffiti, but he wasn’t quite the biggest star on the planet yet, Star Wars was still 5 years away.  We also have John Cazale, Cazale only appeared in 5 films, all in the 1970’s, before his untimely death.  They just happen to be 5 of the best films of the decade.  We also have a young Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams as our targets of the surveillance.  We see Terri Garr in an important scene and Robert Duvall and Billy Dee Williams in such small roles they went uncredited and didn’t even have lines!

Our story starts with Forrest and Williams in a square having what seems to be an innocent conversation on their lunch hour.  We soon see Hackman and his team at different posts around the square, using different recording devices to record the conversation.  We then have a scene where Hackman comes home, he has a number of locks and an alarm on his apartment and when he opens the door, there is a bottle of wine for his birthday.  You see how this drives Hackman crazy, even with all this security the land lord easily gets into his apartment to drop off the wine.  The next day he goes to his warehouse and starts working on piecing his recording together to get the whole conversation.  Once he is finished, he sets up an appointment to deliver the final product to the man who hired him.  That man is not in and his assistant, played by Ford, tries to pay Hackman for the tapes.  Hackman feeling paranoid again decides to wait to deliver it to the man who hired him.  The story takes off from there, as we meet some of Hackman’s competitors at a convention and he tries to figure out what is on the tape exactly and why do people want it so bad?

This movie is a statement on how technology is not always the best thing and can cause more trouble then it is worth.  I can’t imagine what Coppola would have to say if this film was made today, but I would love to see it.  Though the technology is primitive by today’s standards it still has something to say about our world.  Is too much information a good thing?  Are we becoming paranoid as a society?  Should we be?

This film should be seen by any film buff, whether you are a noir fan or not.  If you didn’t see why it is so great on your first viewing, give it a second chance.  I did and I’m glad I did.  This is a film that could be watched multiple times as little nuances can be found each time.

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Review: Night Moves

“Who’s wining?”

“Nobody, one side is just losing slower than the other.”

This movie is a neo noir staring Gene Hackman in all his 1970’s glory.  It has it all, the 16-year-old Lolita, the young rebel mechanic boyfriend, the aging starlet, the Hollywood stuntman, the unhappy wife and of course the ex-football player turned hardboiled private detective.  We also have some classic film noir dialog, updated for a 1970’s audience.  How about this zinger?

“What happened to your face?”

“I won second place in a fight.”

Or this great line from one of our female leads.

“Your are kind of edgy, aren’t you?”

“It’s the heat and the low wages.”

The settings are classic film noir locations, we start out in Los Angles and then go head to the Florida Keys.  We have a young James Woods just getting his career started and a 16 year oldish Melanie Griffith making her film debut.  All directed by Arthur Penn.

So with all of this, why isn’t this picture better known?  TCM’s Ben Markowitz said “This is the best movie you have never seen.”  I’m not sure why, this film just came on my radar earlier this year, and I’m glad I got to view it.

Our story starts with our private detective played by Hackman getting hired by our aging starlet to find her step-daughter(Griffin).  He is also having problems with his marriage, his wife is played by Susan Clark.  His investigation takes him into the world of Hollywood movies and stuntmen.  The case eventually takes him to the Florida Keys and he meets our real femme fatale of the film played by Jennifer Warren.  We also find the step daughter here, us as the audience and our hero believe she is our femme fatale, but she is still just in training and doesn’t fool our hero. The three see the scary remnants of a boat wreck which scares our step-daughter and she willingly goes back to California with our hero.  Our hero thinks the case is closed, but it is only getting started.

Gene Hackman was one of the biggest stars in the 1970’s, starting the decade out with The French Connection and ending it with Superman.  Check out my review of The French Connection here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/04/11/re-watching-the-classics-the-french-connection-2/

He also was in a handful of other box office successes and classic films from the decade.  This is right up there with some of his best, but seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think classic film noir buffs and noir fans in general will too.  If you’re fans of Hackman, it’s a must see and if you want to see a young Melanie Griffith or James Wood it’s worth a viewing.

Re-watching the Classics: The French Connection

French-Connection

The French Connection is a Best Picture winner, directed by William Friedkin who also won Best Director.  This is based on a book by Robin Moore about one of the biggest heroin busts in New York history. Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso are the two narcotics cops who in real life where the center of the investigation.  They both play small roles in the film.  The two cops are played by Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo.  Fernando Rey plays our head French bad guy.

The film starts out with our two heroes working undercover, Popeye dressed as a Santa Claus, chase and bust a small time drug dealer.  He is questioned and talks about a huge shipment coming to New York soon.  They soon find themselves following Sal and Angie Boca (played by Tony Lo Bianco and Arlene Farber) who they believe is part of the huge shipment. We see our heroes using informants and help from the DEA to get to the bottom of the case.

This film has a couple of classic scenes, one is the infamous car chase that is considered one of the best ever.  Soon after this scene is one in which Popeye shoots a man in the back.  This scene was not liked by police officers of the time but was approved by Eddie Egan who was on the set.  When first viewed by audiences they loved the scene.  This ended up on the poster for the film.

the-french-connection-5

This film is often put in “Top 100 Movies of All Time” lists and is a classic by anybody’s standards.  I liked this film the first time I seen it 20 some years ago, and also liked it this time.  I don’t put this in my top 100 films of all time, but it is worth watching.  It is a must see for film fans of any kind, whether you are a neo-noir or crime movie fan or not.   This movie is followed by a sequel with Popeye Doyle going to France and also a spin-off with Roy Scheider playing a version of his character called The Seven-Ups.  I have not seen either of these yet.

Favorite Tidbit: The popular Popeye’s Chicken restaurant chain is named after Popeye Doyle.