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Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)

A private detective is sent to search for the runaway daughter of a rich LA ex-actress and stumbles over an intricate web of lies.

What I like so much in film noir is that there is a certain quirkiness to the motivation of the protagonist. With Night Moves being classified as a Neo-Noir, I thought it might be interesting to map the journey of the main character throughout the movie.

There is no dramatic irony in this film. We know exactly what the character knows at all time. He is in every scene of the film. But we get to know him quite a bit over the course of the story.

Short description of Harry Moseby: A former football player, now working as a struggling private detective, has problems of confronting family problems. He cannot cope with his cheating wife, or talk to his estranged father. On the other hands he tries to "fix" or "break" families professionally. He only mentions his football career in terms of losing a game, so he must have been kicked out or abandoned the sport he loved.

There are some great dialogues in the film: Paula seducing Harry. Joey and Harry talking about 'everything' but work. Many of those scenes 'unpack' Harry's past and his personality. Poignantly speaking: he is in a long analysis session.

What Harry learns.
What we learn about Harry.
Character in his environment. Gets a job. It's a rich client, so he dresses up.
Harry Moseby is private dick. His office is not in perfect order, but doesn't look too shabby. His secretary is an answering machine, so not doing great either.
Visits wife in her antique shop. Doesn't particularly like her co-worker.
That's where all the stuff in his office comes from. Still has sexual attraction to his wife. She asks him for cash, so she might not be rich. His contempt for Rohmer movies indicates that he is not culturally sophisticated.
Visits the client. She's rich (looking down on LA). His job is to look for her daughter.
He's quite down to business with her – not interested in her fading charms.

Visits his friend in his office.
He doesn't know too much about antiques, either. Allusion to his past as a football player.
Listens to brief on Anderson. Learns about a trust fund for the missing daughter. Finds out his wife is cheating on him.
Remains professional detective, despite spying on own wife – relatively calm.
When wife comes home, he doesn't mention it.
Does not know about to confront his wife – fear of what?
Seeks out Quentin/ex-bf of daughter Delly. Learns that Delly stayed on with a stunt-man.
Can become violent when needed.
Waits for the lover of his wife to return.
Harry plays chess.
Confronts the lover.
The lover reveals the protagonist's back story: abandoned child, athlete, etc. by relating it as something his wife had told him. Has to battle his anger not too hit the disabled lover.
Lets wife confront him. She interprets his behaviour of being “professional”. She wants him to take a 'stable' job.
A certain resignation to the situation, but he might not have made up his mind yet about his marriage.
Goes to the set, to see the stunt-man. He befriends the stunt-coordinator Joey.
He was quite a prominent football player.
Talks to the stunt-man. But Joey also seemed to have some relation to Delly. Joey can get quite nasty and seems impulsive.

When he says bye to Joey he sees Quentin working on the set.

Goes back to the mother. Questions her about Marv and Delly. He thinks that Delly might be with Tom Iverson.
He can be pretty cold, when he is reciting his deductions to the client.
Meets wife in the garage but no time to talk.
Harry still avoids confrontation (and conclusion) with his wife.
Goes to Iverson's place. Learns that Delly is there.
He is not immune to the charms of the woman Paula he has met.
Talks to Delly but doesn't break it to her. There is something between Tom and Paula, but he doesn't know yet what.
Paula seems also charmed by him.
Tom Iverson shows up. He seems to be some kind of eccentric egoistical type. Harry figures correctly that Tom has some kind of relation to his step-daughter and confronts him.
Harry barely is more interested in Paula than in Tom.
Delly is in Harry's room, trying to seduce him. But Paula shows up and after an awkward moment Delly takes off pretty angry.
Harry is a bit awkward when it comes to himself. And he is a passionate chess player.
There is a beautiful little dialogue here about not seeing the check mate between Paula and Harry.
Breaks his purpose to Delly. But she doesn't want to go back, because her mother is only interested in her trust fund.
He is still a man with great physical strength.

Learns more about Paula's background. Delly finds a sunken plane with dead pilot inside (coincidence?)

Tom is not too surprised about it. Lot of accidents in the area.

Asks about lack of Paula's reaction to the dead man. Paula stays with him. More bg on Paula.
He succumbs to her.
Delly wants to return home.
Harry doubts his own behaviour (cheating on his wife)
Harry brings Delly home. Meets Quentin there who's angry at him for bringing her home. Big scene at their house.
He doesn't want to be part of this disintegrated family's problems. Runs away (rolls up car window)
Breaks into his wife lover's home. His wife is there.
He confronts his wife. He wants to change his life.
Meets Joey at a football game. Delly also has cards from Joey. Harry doesn't understand the connection between them.

His wife visits him in the office. He gets together with his wife again.
His wife notices that he's changed. He has, indeed.
Tells his wife about tracking down his father.
Inner bg story. He didn't have the guts to step up to his father when he found him.
Delly has died. Harry watches a film take with Joey where she was killed during a stunt take. Joey had been driving the stunt car.

Harry learns that the mother is not exactly grieving.
There is a growing anger inside Harry at the injustice done to Delly.
Quentin says he doesn't know a thing. Ellman (the stuntman) was the dead man in the plane at the bottom of the sea. Quentin flees when Harry accuses him of having manipulated the car.

Learns that Quentin knows Tom (from Joey) and the plane crash didn't get reported.

It seems he can resolve the issues with his marriage.
In Florida he finds a dead Quentin. Surprises Paula and Tom before they're heading off with the boat (to flee?) - Tom and Harry fight
He has theories but can't seem to connect them.
Harry learns from Paula that it has been all about smuggling antiques from Mexico to Florida.
He trusts Laura (has to) – but realizes that she only was with him to distract him. He fell for her lies.
Paula decides to dive down. Harry sees a plane approaching. He gets shot in the knee. The plane lands and kills Paula as she gets back to the surface.The plane crashes and sinks. It's Joey who was flying it.

The wounded Harry can only make the boat drive around in circles.
He didn't solve the case. Has been played by every party.


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