Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Conversation (1974) Surveillance Noir

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Cotton Club (1984)). Cinematography by Bill Butler (Hickey & Boggs (1972)) and Haskell Wexler (Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), The Savage Eye (1960), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Mulholland Falls (1996)). Music was by David Shire (Farewell, My Lovely (1975)).

The film stars Gene Hackman (Naked City  TV Series (1958–1963), Night Moves (1975)) as Harry Caul, John Cazale (The Godfather (1972)) as Stan, Allen Garfield (The Cotton Club (1984)) as William P. "Bernie" Moran, Cindy Williams as Ann Frederic Forrest (Hammett (1982), The Two Jakes (1990)), as Mark, Harrison Ford (Blade Runner (1982)) as Martin Stett, Elizabeth MacRae (Naked City  TV Series (1958–1963), Route 66 (1960–1964), as Meredith, and Teri Garr (After Hours (1985)) as Amy Fredericks.

The film is about a Surveillance P. I., Harry Caul (Hackman) an electronics nerd who incrementally becomes paranoid, alienated, and obsessed. Caul is "tops" in his field on the West Coast, a thorough and meticulous, snoop. His headquarters is in a chain link cage in the corner of an empty warehouse floor, at the edge of the rail freight yards of San Francisco. His workbench holds an array of audio equipment. He makes his office calls from various random payphones.

His standoffishness is manifest in the lack of details in his barren relationship with his girlfriend Amy (Garr). Harry has told her nothing of his past, he remains a stranger. When he calls on her, he sneaks to her flop door, putting his key quietly into the lock then flinging open the door as if to catch her doing something. He's a friendless, secretive, overly cautious schlub who wears a cheap plastic raincoat on sunny days, has installed four separate locks on his flat door, and gets anxious flashbacks to the young couple his work has put in jeopardy during a momentary power interruption on a streetcar. His only two release/retreats seem to be the confessional at his church and his saxophone, which he plays to the accompaniment of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady spinning on his turntable.

Caul (Hackman) lt. Stan (Caszal) rt.

Anne (Williams) and Mark (Forrest)

During a big and intricately involved high tech eavesdropping surveillance job on a target couple Ann (Williams) and Mark (Forrest) in Union Square, San Francisco, Caul neglects the first rule of surveillance and begins to get personally involved. His past nagging guilt about previous assignments begins to gnaw on his conscience. As he works on the recordings and transcripts he begins to ponder if this job going to physically hurt or possibly kill the couple under surveillance as happened to others in another job in a similar situation.

Caul's paranoid condition amplifies, he's miffed when his landlord leaves a bottle of wine in his "Fortress of Solitude" apartment, chagrined that his bank has sent him a birthday card, and then later he freaks out after his ominous client "the director" contacts him through his henchman Martin Stett (Ford) who calls him on his private phone that he's never given out the number to.

Caul begins to slowly lose his mind as he descends into Noirsville.... do we see actual events or his guilty by association hallucinations.


Amy (Garr)

Meredith (MacRae) and Caul

Hackman gives a great performance as the wound a bit too tight, idiosyncratic loner. The cast comprising Caul's peers are equally eccentric and nerdy. The rest of the players are more peripheral with only Harrison Ford standing out as an ominous flunkie of the nameless "director." The soundtrack is excellent. Screencaps are from the 2010 DVD. 9/10

No comments:

Post a Comment