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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Re-Watching the Classics: Dog Day Afternoon

986260100c954ce9b2b37bf8ad8c3417Dog Day Afternoon is a neo-noir film made in 1975, based on real events from 1972.  John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile try to rob a branch of Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn, New York. The reason they are trying to rob the bank is  for Wojtowicz’s lover, Ernest Aron, who is trying to pay for a sex change operation.  This is to crazy to be true but it is!

Even though this film was mostly improvised, Frank Pierson won an Academy Award for his screenplay. He got the idea from a Life Magazine article.  This was nominated for 5 Academy Awards in total, but only won one.  This movie was unfortunately up against One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for most of its awards.  This will be remembered as one of Al Pacino’s best performances and the 4th time he was nominated for an Academy Award in 4 consecutive years.  All 4 nominations where for classic neo-noir roles as well, with The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II, and this performance.  All 4 are now legendary roles, but he didn’t win for any of them.

This film was directed by legendary director Sidney Lumet.  Lumet made some of the greatest films of all time including many neo-noir films.  We will be re-looking at many of his films later on this blog.

Our co-star is John Cazale, who was way to old to play the part of real-life 18-year-old Sal.  Pacino insisted on Cazale playing the role, even though Lumet thought he was all wrong.  When Lumet saw his audition he hired him on the spot. Cazale, who’s short career only produced 5 films before his death from cancer didn’t disappoint.  All 5 films he appeared in were nominated for best picture and all 5 are classics.  They are:

The Godfather

The Conversation

The Godfather II

Dog Day Afternoon

The Deer Hunter

Who knows what Cazale could have done if his time here was longer.

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Other standouts in the cast are Charles Durning as our Police Sargent in charge, Carol Kane and Penelope Allen as two of the bank tellers who become hostages, and Lance Henriksen as the bus driver.

This is required viewing for the fan of grimy 1970’s film, and noir and neo-noir fans.  Trivia note, John Wojtowicz lover did get his sex change operation after all, paid for by Wojtowicz earnings from selling his story for this film.