Night Moves (1975) + Undercurrent (1946)

New 2017 1080p HD remaster created from 4K scan
16 x 9 WIDESCREEN-Aspect ratio 1.78

Normally, I try to avoid lumping two movies together into one review, but Warner Archive has just released both titles within a short span of time and I watched them in one night.  They represent two opposite ends of the noir spectrum but manage to carry some thematic similarities, one far more successfully than the other.  It was a true delight to experience one of these in a restored Blu-Ray that I will be passing on to as many folks as possible.  Let's start with NIGHT MOVES, from Arthur Penn.

This was a movie I knew very little about first going in but found myself absolutely enraptured by right from the start.  It helps that we have an actor like Hackman as our guide, a lost soul of idealism trapped in a seedy underbelly (or undercurrent if you will).  He's far more talkative than the other "Harry" he portrays in THE CONVERSATION, but both do carry a lost soul quality that Hackman is able to convey masterfully.  Harry accepts a case from Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), an aging B-movie actress who wants Harry to find her 16-year-old daughter Delly (a strikingly young Melanie Griffith, in her first major film role) and have her brought back home to Los Angeles. You get the feeling Arlene is probably more interested in keeping Harry around than releasing him to go find her promiscuous daughter. When Harry names his fee for taking the case, Arlene balks. “You can get cheaper,” Harry tells her. “But can I get better?” Arleen asks. Harry’s silence is telling.  The plot thickens, and it's best not to reveal too much so the surprises can unfold. 

There's a Philip Marlowe quality to the proceedings, where nothing is as what it seems, expectations are subverted and characters may or may not receive redemption or comeuppance.  In a rather interesting parallel, which may reflect the times and the filmmakers' visions, NIGHT MOVES manages to present the more fatalistic tragic downfall that THE LONG GOODBYE or INHERENT VICE don't seem to allow in the end for their protagonists.  There are dark matters at play that don't ultimately get resolved, to where it feels messy and lifelike.  More than anything else, NIGHT MOVES is about loss which is what so much of noir is about anyway. The irretrievable loss that may or may not be pinned on you but it doesn’t matter in the end. The loss of Harry’s youth, his football past, his failing marriage, the case that’s swirling away around him somehow feels more timely now.  (Perhaps since we're practically living inside our own contemporary Watergate).  Harry loses those things because he doesn’t see what’s going on right outside of the frame. Sometimes he doesn’t even see what’s right in front of him. He expects things to be straightforward. “You mean you’re gonna solve the case and find the booty?” the more-or-less femme fatale says to him near the end knowing that it isn’t that simple, also knowing that she’ll never convince him otherwise.  NIGHT MOVES is one of my new favorite films that I've seen, almost on par with how I felt about POINT BLANK with a never-better Lee Marvin.  And if you want to see Hackman at his best, this is right near the top of must-see performances from a legendary performer who effortlessly portrays stoicism and charm.


Made To Order DVD

More in the realm of expressionistic charm, Vincente Minelli's UNDERCURRENT, really does grab hold of you initially.  But it's a patient story that gradually inherits a mystery that will either win you over or leave you restless.  Sadly, despite some strengths, I fell more into the latter category.  Katherine Hepburn is an actress I always look to for comedic emphasis, but here, she is embodying the gaslit wife to lesser success.  There are moments where she overplays, crying intensely that feels more operatic than necessary, but the layers become enriching as time moves forward.  The plot is relatively less complex than most noirs, in which Anne (Hepburn) is immediately wooed by handsome industrialist Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor), knowing little of his family or past.  Secrets eventually come out surrounding a mysterious brother figure who is more of an apparition than a fully developed character.  Minelli chooses to keep the courtship of Alan and Anne brief, to interesting effect initially.  There's a beautifully choreographed sequence of anxiety as Anne experiences displacement among the upper class elite at a party.  I was hoping that this would be explored further, but it's discarded in favor of family strife.   As it went on, UNDERCURRENT to me felt like good intentions that came up short in execution.  Everyone involved tries to give it their all, but by the time all is revealed, you're likely to feel a bit underwhelmed than satisfied.

My main quibble is the lack of one of the true greats of the era, Mr. Robert Mitchum.  When you see his name credited third, best not get your hopes up too early the way I did. Robert Mitchum is barely in it and his absence is often felt.  Like Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN, Michael Garroway is more of a pervading presence than he is an active participant.  When he does show up, it has a much weightier impact but he's another character that doesn't reveal too much, too soon.   Like any mystery, you're left in the dark with questions to reflect the befuddlement of Katherine Hepburn portraying Anne with a sense of longing to connect with her husband Alan.  Despite her convictions, there was a certain "outside looking in" quality that I couldn't shake coupled with an ending that is more silly than shocking.  There’s a particularly unintentionally comic scene that’s supposed to instill fear and suspense, but dies on screen thanks to production issues.  For me, the standout here is Robert Taylor, who you want to believe is genuinely truthful and sincere, but very well may be a manipulative force of nature hell-bent on self-destruction.  The best moments come courtesy of confrontation or if you're an old-fashioned cinephile, seeing legends like Hepburn and Mitchum share screen time is enough to give you goosebumps.  Wish I could say the same for the rest of the proceedings, but I didn't get carried away by UNDERCURRENT despite the tremendous talent involved.  


James Laczkowski