Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1975. Warner Bros., Hiller Productions, Layton Productions, Major Studio Partners. Screenplay by Alan Sharp. Cinematography by Bruce Surtees. Produced by Robert M. Sherman. Music by Michael Small. Production Design by George Jenkins. Costume Design by Rita Riggs. Film Editing by Dede Allen, Stephen A. Rotter.
This is one of the definitive neonoirs of the seventies, one that perfectly the captures the discovery of seedy truths beneath false beauty in the way that the best forties films of the genre did, while setting it in an unmistakably contemporary world. Gene Hackman plays a private investigator whose wife (Susan Clark) disapproves of his small-time existence, which drives her into the arms of the more accomplished Harris Yulin. Miserable about his home life falling apart, Hackman throws himself into work when a new case comes his way, a Hollywood matron past her best days (Janet Ward) who asks him to locate her missing teenage daughter (Melanie Griffith in her film debut). He tracks the young woman all the way to the Florida Keys where he finds her living with her stepfather and his girlfriend (Jennifer Warren), spending a few days in the balmy seaside and enjoying some erotic repartee with Warren before convincing Griffith to come back home. Upon his return to the west coast he is suddenly faced with, what else, a series of bodies that pile up and point to something more complex and dangerous than he originally thought. Director Arthur Penn applies a strong and sturdy pace to the plot, never in a rush to get to the meatier violence and instead focusing on the characters and slowly building an atmosphere that feels warm and sexy as it slowly coils around you as it moves towards the exciting finale. The film was not at all successful in its day, but time has been good to it and its merits shine through.