Francis Ford Coppola in Conversational Mode

DATELINE: Eavesdroppers

  Pouty Harrison Takes on Hackman

In 1974 between his Godfather epics, Coppola tackled the high-tech tale of a wire-tapper who is tapped out. He wrote and directed this intriguing suspense drama. You know the Coppola tag will build this to a daunting climax.

The Conversation seems a throwaway but may be a perfect metaphor for the upcoming technological invasion of privacy that the 21stcentury and Internet will dump on us.

Gene Hackman is a suffering paranoid who seems to enjoy eavesdropping less and less each day. When he discovers that his work may be even dirtier than usual with murder in mind, he seems to be struck with a conscience.

When you subtract all the outmoded surveillance equipment from the movie, you have something so quaint as to be primitive by today’s digital standards. You may rightfully worry that things are a lot worse nowadays.

You may laugh at the spooling tapes and wonder how they could do any job effectively.

As a film, the story is microscopic as befits the nosy nature of small-time detective work. Yet, nothing transcends the basic fright of murder under your nose.

The Coppola cast is more than right: he has collected some of his favorite people and found others right before they made it big on TV/and movies. You will see a baby-faced Harrison Ford, a young girlish Teri Garr, a pretty victim in Cindi Williams without Laverne. Frederic Forrest is a callow-looking adulterer. Slippery John Cazale is always a Coppola staple and acts as a supporting, underappreciated wiretapper here too.

One of Coppola’s favorite actors makes a cameo as the corporate villain.

They are all secondary to the mid-life crisis that cannot be better epitomized than Gene Hackman at the pinnacle of his Everyman person.

The business means that you cannot trust anyone, professionally or personally. And, there is good reason to be suspicious when large amounts of money is paid for information.

 

 

 

Twilight of the Hollywood Gods

 DATELINE: Gemstone Ignored?

twilight

It was 20 years ago that Paul Newman played one of his last tired, cynical, lethargic private detectives up to his eyeballs in corruption. The movie was Twilight, and it was so laden with talent that it apparently sank into oblivion.

On the other hand, there are dozens of movies with Twilight in the title, and most are forgettable.

This ignored classic is out there for those who want to stream through it. Thank heavens we found it. And, it is well-worth the time. This is high-quality, high-level movie-making. Every scene is gripping and intriguing.

When you look at the stars in the twilight of their careers from this picture, you wonder if there is a double meaning:  Gene Hackman, James Garner, and director Robert Benton, join Newman at journey’s end. The fictional stars are on their last legs too.

Playing at a coverup of corrupt Hollywood stars in the murder for pleasure motive, Newman plays a former cop and private eye who does the cleanup for big stars. The plot centers on some dirty blackmail scheme, but by whom and why?

Your second generation of stars include Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon as the daughter of the stars and her dubious boyfriend played by Liev Schreiber. An honorable mention goes to Margo Martindale as the zaftig rinse-bottle blonde.

As you may guess, this is first-class travel all the way—and makes us wonder why it fell through the cracks 20 years ago. It was likely just too familiar ground for Newman whose posturing resembles a teenage boy, not a man in his 70s.

By today’s dubious film standards, this movie is a sheer delight of crime melodrama.