Arthur Penn’s Night Moves and the Rise of Neo-Noir
There is little doubt that Moseby Confidential will become an essential resource for anyone with an interest in Night Moves, as well as neo-noir, and the seventies film more generally. Diligently researched with close attention to the existing literature, archival material and supplemented by new interviews (including with Clark and Warren, and relatives of Penn and Sharp), Gear uncovers information about the movie’s development, production, and post-production that will be eye-openers for even the most avid fans of the film.
—Jonathan Kirshner, Mid Century Cinema
This definitive study of Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is the first extended monograph on the cult classic, which is often singled out as one of the great irreverent neo-noir movies of mid-1970s New Hollywood, alongside Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.
Author Matthew Asprey Gear draws on a wealth of new and unpublished archival interviews with key cast and crew members and witnesses to the production of one of the last radical private eye films of the period, starring Gene Hackman, Melanie Griffith and Jennifer Warren.
Moseby Confidential tells the story of the fraught collaboration between two artists of very different sensibilities – Scottish scriptwriter Alan Sharp, the hopeless fatalist; American director Arthur Penn, the agitating progressive. They came together in 1973 to make a dark film about an America bereft of answers. Everything seemed in place for a triumph. Finally, in careers plagued by compromise, there was both an adequate budget and artistic freedom.
Gene Hackman’s performance would expertly particularize an archetype fracturing before our eyes – the knightly private detective unable to solve his case, the macho American male desperate for certainty but lost at sea. But neither Penn nor Sharp was satisfied with the resulting movie and disagreed over its final form.
After a long delay, Warner Brothers cut its losses and dumped Night Moves into cinemas with a half-hearted publicity campaign. The movie’s reviews were mixed and it failed to make a profit in the summer of 1975. That season was dominated by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, which provided Hollywood with a new and super-profitable model of film production.
Yet Night Moves is now recognized as one of the defining films of the 1970s, both as a profound human drama and as an enduring evocation of the zeitgeist. This Technicolor neo-noir helped reinvent and redeem the private detective movie, while offering deep and disturbing insight into the moral ambiguities of the Watergate era.
Matthew Asprey Gear is the author of At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City. His writings on film and literature have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Senses of Cinema, and Bright Lights Film Journal, and his fiction in many publications, including Crime Factory. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Thrilling Detective‘s take on Moseby Confidential:
“More than you ever knew you wanted to know about Arthur Penn’s classic 1970s noir. Considered by some to be one of the all-time great P.I. films, this in-depth look is at the film is full of insider dirt, interviews, critical analysis, and more, including the diverging visions of the film between Scottish scriptwriter Alan Sharp and American director Penn, neither of whom was happy with the final product. They were both wrong.”
The sixties were ending and Alan Sharp, a young Scottish novelist in America, found his muse on the frontier. By then everything seemed to be falling apart. Hopes and certainties had evaporated. Consensus was fractured. It was the bloody season of political assassinations. Thomas McGuane, another wild and libidinous young writer, would begin a Key West novel with an appropriately sweeping summation of despair: “Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our Republic.” Alan Sharp, no stranger to despair, also found his way to the sparkling waters, the fetid swamps, the heavy air of the Florida Keys.
Moseby Confidential: Night Moves and the Rise of Neo-Noir (Jorvik Press, 2019) is an interesting monograph of a hybrid nature. Written by Matthew Asprey Gear, author of the distinctive study At The End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City (Wallflower Press, 2016) and other stimulating publications, the publisher’s location is in Oregon but the name of the press derived from the Viking name for York, England, while its author now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. Naturally, this fusion fits the author’s independent status away from the treadmill of institutional academia allowing him to follow his own lines of research. This type of monograph would once have been within the scope of such works published by BFI Publishing, I.B. Tauris, Hong Kong University Press, and other companies that once prolifically engaged in this area. Today, it is gratifying to see an independent press continuing the tradition, which allows a renowned film critic to write about a film he champions.
Summer Reading Challenge 2019: Moseby Confidential – Matthew Asprey Gear
Andy Wolverton’s piece in his blog, Journeys in Darkness and Light: Exploring Film Noir, Classic Movies, and More
Most books written about individual films play it safe in two ways. First, such works are usually reserved for enormously popular titles that have stood the test of time. You’ll find books (often more than one) devoted to such classics as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and any number of films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Second, these books frequently begin with the germination of an idea, usually in the mind of a writer, screenwriter, or director, following it as it develops, picks up steam, starts and stops, stalls, and finally arrives to a thundering popular and/or critical ovation, either upon its initial release, or years (even decades) later. Night Moves (1975) was never an enormously popular movie, but it has slowly gained stature in the 40-plus years since its release, particularly in the film noir community. Matthew Asprey Gear’s new book not only celebrates a work fans refuse to relegate to the basement of forgotten crime films, it examines the film’s genesis in a somewhat unorthodox, yet fascinating, way.
From Jonathan Kirshner’s Mid Century Cinema website
Long-time followers of Mid Century Cinema know that we are, uh, somewhat fond of Arthur Penn’s neo-noir masterpiece Night Moves, which derives from an original screenplay by Alan Sharp and features an outstanding cast led by Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, and Jennifer Warren. We have previously written a review of the DVD release, posted about it here, and wrote at length about it in Hollywood’s Last Golden Age (which benefitted from gracious and generous interviews with Penn and Warren). It is on the list of our twenty-five favorite films (check out the company it keeps.) So it was with eager anticipation – and a hint of envy (more than a decade ago we pitched a Night Moves monograph for the BFI series, and you can deduce how that turned out) – that we cracked the covers of the hot-off-the-presses Moseby Confidential: Arthur Penn’s Night Moves and the Rise of Neo-Noir by Matthew Asprey Gear.
Review by Don Herron on his website, Up and Down these Mean Streets, “a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.”
Matthew Asprey Gear’s previous film tome piled up over 300 pages covering the career of Orson Welles, but this year he’s taking it easy with a monograph half that length. Got to appreciate the guys sitting around knocking out monographs. Selecting Night Moves as the focal point for said monograph is pretty interesting, since it comes in during that early 70s era that saw the shooting of Chinatown (a Polanski classic, though my personal fave in his oeuvre remains The Fearless Vampire Killers) and The Long Goodbye (hated it then, hate it now — even having Leigh Brackett writing on it didn’t help).
Australian writer Andrew Nette’s review appears on his website, Pulp Curry. “Pulp, culture, crime, hardboiled and curried.”
To paraphrase Crocket, the cop character in Michael Mann’s 2006 movie, Miami Vice, I am a fiend for late 1960s/early 1970s American crime cinema. And Matthew Asprey Gear’s Moseby Confidential: Arthur Penn’s Nightmoves and the Rise of Neo-Noir, reminded me exactly why.Moseby Confidential is a monograph about the 1975 neo-noir, Night Moves, starring Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby. Moseby is a confused, disillusioned, deeply insecure, ex-professional footballer turned bottom feeding Los Angeles private investigator. As much to take his mind off suspicions his wife (Susan Clark) is having an affair as the need to turn a dollar, Moseby takes the job of finding the 16-year old tearaway daughter (a very young Melanie Griffiths in her first major screen role) of a washed-up Hollywood star. The case brushes up against the world of professional Hollywood stuntmen before taking Moseby to Key West, Florida, where the young girl is living with her stepfather and his hardscrabble girlfriend, Paula (a terrific performance by Jennifer Warren, who Asprey Gear interviews for the book).
One reads far too many monographs on films that are barely worth a capsule review, let alone thousands of words. This is why Moseby Confidential is so refreshing: the importance of the subject matches the quality of the work. Not only does the author intimately reconstruct the forces that came together to create this seminal film, he did it in a highly readable, authoritative way. This is not some navel-gazing pedant’s analysis, it’s an adventure story about making a key film in the detective genre. It catches and explores the cultural and cinematic overtones of Night Moves and confirms the quality of the talent that Arthur Penn, Alan Sharp, Dede Allen, and their collaborators devoted to this complex film.
Matthew Asprey Gear sharply and smartly captures both how this key film of the 1970s tapped into a critical, even cynical or downbeat tone of the times and how it served thereby as a marker of how far cinema had progressed as a form of social, existential, and self-reflexive investigation. Great research matched by passionate and consequential analysis.