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Night Moves is a 1975 American neo-noir film[3][4][5] directed by Arthur Penn. It stars Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, and features early career appearances by Melanie Griffith and James Woods.

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 byArthur Penn
Produced byRobert M. Sherman
Written byAlan Sharp
StarringGene Hackman
Susan Clark
Music byMichael Small
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byDede Allen
Stephen A. Rotter (co-editor)[1][2]
Hiller Productions, Ltd. – Layton[2]
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 11, 1975 (1975-06-11) (New York City)
  • July 2, 1975 (1975-07-02) (Los Angeles)
Running time
99 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States

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",[6] which refers to its relationship with the film noir tradition of detective films. The original screenplay is by Scottish writer Alan Sharp.

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.[7] In 2010, Manohla Dargis described it 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."[8]


Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) 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 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 Los Angeles, 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 (Anthony Costello). Harry realizes that the injuries to Quentin's face are from fighting the stuntman and sympathizes 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 Los Angeles, 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 the pilot 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. After he drops her off at her California home, he still is uneasy about the case, but focuses on patching up his own marriage. He tells his wife he will give up the agency, something she has wanted him to do for a long time, but then he learns that Delly has been killed in a car accident on the set of a movie.

Harry questions the driver of the car, Joey, who was injured. Joey lets him view footage of the crash, which raises Harry's suspicions about Quentin the mechanic. He goes to the home of Arlene Iverson and finds her drunk by the pool, not particularly grief-stricken over the death of her daughter. Arlene now stands to inherit her daughter's wealth. Harry tracks down Quentin, who denies being the killer, but tells him that Marv Ellman was the dead pilot in the plane and that Ellman was involved in smuggling. Quentin manages to escape before Harry can learn more.

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 the aircraft contained a valuable sculpture that they were smuggling piecemeal to the United States. Harry and Paula set off to retrieve the sculpture. While Paula is diving, a seaplane arrives and the pilot strafes the boat, machine-gunning Harry 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 of the pontoons on the surfaced sculpture shatters 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. Harry unsuccessfully tries to steer the boat which is now travelling in circles.


Though released in 1975, much of Night Moves was filmed in 1973. Production was halted for two years for undisclosed reasons, which explains the physical difference in Melanie Griffith's appearance from the beginning of the film to near the end. She was 15 when shooting commenced and 18 by the time the film opened in theaters. The role of Ellen, played by Susan Clark, was originally offered to Faye Dunaway who turned it down to star in Chinatown. The house belonging to James Woods' character Quentin was owned by Phil Kaufman, road manager for Gram Parsons at the time of his death. Kaufman's subsequent actions became the basis for the film Grand Theft Parsons (2003). The cast and crew of Night Moves were shooting at the house on the day the police came to question Kaufman, and as they were taking him away, Arthur Penn turned to Gene Hackman and said, "Man, we're shooting the wrong movie".[9]

My Night at Maud'sEdit

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 (1970): "I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kinda like watching paint dry."[10] The exchange from Night Moves was quoted in director Éric Rohmer's New York Times obituary in 2010.[11] Arthur Penn was an admirer of Rohmer's films;[12] Bruce Jackson has written an extended discussion of the role of My Night at Maud's in Night Moves; viewers familiar with the earlier film may recognize that its protagonist and Moseby have related opportunities for infidelity, but respond differently.[10]


Critical responseEdit

Roger Ebert gave the film a full four stars and called it "one of the best psychological thrillers in a long time, probably since 'Don't Look Now.' It has an ending that comes not only as a complete surprise — which would be easy enough — but that also pulls everything together in a new way, one we hadn't thought of before, one that's almost unbearably poignant."[13] Ebert ranked Night Moves at #2 on his year-end list of the best films of 1975, behind only Nashville.[14] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that he had "mixed feelings" about the film, elaborating that the characters "seem to deserve better than the quality of the narrative given them. I can't figure out whether the screenplay by Alan Sharp was worked on too much or not enough, or whether Mr. Penn and his actors accepted the screenplay with more respect than it deserves."[15] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three stars out of four and stated that the protagonist is the "kind of mixed-up character" that "seems to be Hackman's specialty," while Alan Sharp's screenplay "provides the character of Paula (Jennifer Warren) with some of the best scripting for any woman this year."[16] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called the film "a paradox. A suspenseless suspenser, very well cast with players who lend sustained interest to largely theatrical characters ... There's little rhyme or reason for the plot's progression, and the climax is far from stunning. But the curious aspect about the Warner Bros. release is that it plays well."[17] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "a stunning, stylish detective mystery in the classic Raymond Chandler-Ross Macdonald mold," as well as "a fast, often funny movie with lots of compassionately observed real, living, breathing people. This handsome Warners presentation is still another triumph for ever-busy, ever-versatile Gene Hackman, director Arthur Penn and writer Alan Sharp."[18] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post was negative, stating, "The fatal weakness is Alan Sharp's screenplay, a pointlessly murky, ambiguous variation on conventional private-eye themes ... we're supposed to be so impressed by the dolorous, world-weary tone that we overlook some pretty awesome loopholes and absurdities in the story itself, which never generates much mystery, suspense or credible human interest."[19]

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.[20] 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."[21] 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."[22] 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."[6] 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.[23] Roger Ebert added the film to his "Great Movies" list in 2006.[24]

Griffith's appearance in the movie 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.[25] However, she appeared in other films nude concurrently (e.g. Smile).[citation needed]

Night Moves has been classified by some critics as a "neo-noir" film, representing a further development of the film noir detective story.[26] 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."[27]

The film currently holds a score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews.[28]

Box office and home mediaEdit

Night Moves is not considered to have been a commercial success at the time of its 1975 theatrical release.[7][29] Night Moves was released in 1992 in the U.S. as a LaserDisc[30] and as a VHS-format videotape.[31] In 2005, it was released as a DVD in the U.S. and Canada (region 1).[32] 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."[33] A region 2 DVD was released in 2007.[34] The film was released on Blu-ray in 2017 by Warner Archive Collection.[35]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Rotter was credited as "co-editor"; see "Index to Motion Picture Credits: Night Moves". Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
  2. ^ a b c Night Moves at the American Film Institute Catalog
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  4. ^ Sanders, Steven; Skoble, Aeon G. (2008). The Philosophy of TV Noir. University of Kentucky Press. p. 3.
  5. ^ Schwartz, Ronald (2005). Neo-noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8108-5676-9.
  6. ^ a b Schwartz, Dennis (December 5, 2000). "Night Moves". Ozus' World: Film Reviews. Retrieved 2010-08-21.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Dargis, Manohla (October 8, 2010). "Arthur Penn, a Director Attuned to His Country". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ a b Jackson, Bruce (July 11, 2010). "Loose Ends in Night Moves". Senses of Cinema (55).
  11. ^ Kehr, David (January 11, 2010). "Éric Rohmer, a Leading Filmmaker of the French New Wave, Dies at 89". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Penn, Arthur; Chaiken, Michael; Cronin, Paul (2008). Arthur Penn: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-60473-105-7.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 11, 1975). "Night Moves". Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006). Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert. University of Chicago Press. p. 443. ISBN 9780226182018.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 12, 1975). "Screen: 'Night Moves' Stars a Private Eye More Complex Than His Case". The New York Times. 30.
  16. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 5, 1975). "Bleak, unique 'Night Moves'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 5.
  17. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (March 26, 1975). "Film Reviews: Night Moves". Variety. 18.
  18. ^ Thomas, Kevin (July 2, 1975). "Private Eye With Style". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  19. ^ Arnold, Gary (June 27, 1975). "Mysterious 'Night Moves'". The Washington Post. B7.
  20. ^ Sragow, Michael (1990). Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You've Never Seen. Mercury House. ISBN 978-0-916515-84-3.
  21. ^ Prince, Stephen (2002). A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbox (1980–1989). University of California. p. 232.
  22. ^ Kolker, Robert (2000). The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman (3rd Edition). Oxford. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-512350-0.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 26, 2006). "Great Movies: Night Moves". Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  25. ^
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Schwartz, Ronald (2005). Neo-noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8108-5676-9.
  28. ^ "Night Moves". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Night Moves (LaserDisc). Warner Home Video. October 21, 1992. ISBN 0-7907-1309-8. 100 minutes. See "Night Moves (1975) [11102]". LaserDisc Database.
  31. ^ Night Moves (VHS tape). Warner Home Video. April 1, 1992. 100 minutes. See "Night Moves [VHS] (1975)".
  32. ^ Night Moves (DVD). Warner Home Video. July 12, 2005. 100 minutes. See "Night Moves (1975)".
  33. ^ Chaw, Walter (April 14, 2010). "Night Moves". Film Freak Central. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18.
  34. ^ Die heiße Spur (DVD). Warner Home Video. 21 September 2007. 96 minutes; German and English soundtracks. See "Die heiße Spur".
  35. ^ Reuben, Michael (August 15, 2017). "Night Moves Blu-ray". The raw 4K scan of Night Moves has been meticulously color-corrected by one of MPI's premier colorists, followed by WAC's customary cleanup to remove dust, blemishes and age-related damage. The result is a 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray that ranks among the best and most accurate releases of a Seventies catalog title currently available.

Further reading

External linksEdit