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.