Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Night Moves (1975)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Night Moves (1975)

In Arthur Penn's moody, post-Watergate neo-noirish, psychological detective film and mystery-thriller with the enigmatic title 'Night Moves' - it was penned by Scottish novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp. Penn's filmography during the New Wave Hollywood era included Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Alice’s Restaurant (1969), and Little Big Man (1970).

The title of the private-eye flick could be more significantly renamed 'Knight Moves' as a chess metaphor, symbolizing the protagonist's chessboard of life in which he was ultimately myopic, uncomprehending, and completely 'blind' and misinformed about the events of his case (and his own domestic situation). The puzzling film concluded with an ambiguous ending - completely atypical for the detective-mystery sub-genre, with no resolution in the detective's investigation.

The dedicated, old-school private-eye detective (who thought he was in a stable marriage until he discovered his wife was cheating on him) was distracted from his own crumbling marital problems when he was commissioned to search for a runaway (missing) teenaged daughter of an obscure ex-film actress in LA. (The daughter was named after the Biblical seductress Delilah who accepted bribe money to strip strong-man Samson of his long hair and power.) He ultimately located the promiscuous, irresistible, pot-smoking girl living in Florida Keys, who had suspicious connections back in Los Angeles to two Hollywood film crew stuntmen and to her ex-boyfriend (a mechanic). In Florida, the runaway was living with her step-father (with a charter business) and his liberated lover (with whom Harry also had a brief affair).

Unexpected, seemingly-unconnected and 'accidental' events, including multiple deaths-murders and a hidden smuggling operation of valuable Mexican artwork from the Yucatan to the US, had completely fooled the misguided, confused and overwhelmed detective, who was left wounded and in a rudderless boat aimlessly going around in circles.

  • middle-aged, chess enthusiast, failed ex-football player and LA private eye Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) was given a referral and spare case by his friend and professional rival-associate Nick (Kenneth Mars) (owner of a detective agency); Harry preferred to work independently of Nick's larger PI agency, claiming it was an "information factory"; he had a card for his own business: Moseby Confidential
  • Harry was married to Ellen Moseby (Susan Clark), an antique store owner; when asked if he would attend Rohmer's New Wave art film My Night at Maud's (1969, Fr.) with her partner Charles (Ben Archibek), Harry declined with the film's most-famous quote: "I saw a Rohmer film once; it was kind of like watching paint dry"
  • in the film's main plot, Harry was called upon to investigate a missing persons crime case; at a luxurious home in LA, Harry met with idle rich ex-actress Arlene, to negotiate finding her daughter - a promiscuous, dope-smoking, 16 year-old runaway named Delilah "Delly" Grastner (Melanie Griffith in an early role at age 16 or 17), born in 1957, who had been missing for two weeks; during their visit, Arlene told how Delly was her daughter from her first estranged husband, Hollywood "big guns" producer Irving Grastner; and then she bragged about her breasts: "Oh, I had lovely tits. Even if I do say so myself. They're sitting on a little bit of silicone now, but when they were up for grabs, they were really something special"; Harry was hired by Arlene (for $125/day plus expenses) to find Delly
  • before leaving for Florida, Harry spoke with Nick in his office, who off-handedly showed off his valuable Mexican artifacts - an important clue to Harry's mystery later revealed: "You ought to get your money into those little guys. They're appreciating faster than real estate. Especially now that the Mexicans got their backs up about their art treasures bein' ripped off"
  • listening to an audio tape-recording about Arlene's past history, given to him by Nick, Harry learned that Arlene had a troubled childhood; her father went bankrupt in 1933 and committed suicide when she was 8 years old; in Hollywood where she appeared in minor films in the mid-late 1940s, she married Grastner in 1949, and Delilah was born in 1957; she divorced Grastner in 1962 on grounds of "mental cruelty"; Grastner counter-sued "on grounds of adultery" - she was having an affair with Tom Iverson; custody of Delly was awarded to Arlene without alimony, although Grastner set up a trust fund of $30,000/year for Delly, before dying in 1964; Arlene later married Tom Iverson, but they separated in 1970 due to charges of "bodily assault"
  • Harry clearly realized Arlene's motivations - the only reason that the selfish Arlene wanted Delly back was to live off her trust fund, that required them to be living together, with Delly in her custody; all assets would revert to Delly on her 25th birthday
  • Harry drove up to the Magnolia Theatre marquee, advertising Eric Rohmer's New Wave art film; after parking across the street to surprise his wife after the show, he made the shocking discovery that his wife was having an affair when he saw her riding off with another man and kissing him at a stoplight
  • to help locate Delly, Harry had been directed by Arlene to speak to Delly's former "creep" boyfriend Quentin (James Woods), a greasy, suspicious LA mechanic working under a car; Harry noticed Quentin's left black eye and broken nose; Harry also roughed up Quentin to receive a tip about Delly's recent whereabouts - she had been in New Mexico on the set of a film, where she allegedly 'hit on' stuntman/pilot Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello); Harry deduced that Quentin and Marv had fought over Delly's romantic attention
LA Mechanic - Delly's Ex-Boyfriend Quentin (James Woods)
  • Harry attempted to 'investigate' Helen's lover by confronting crippled Marty Heller (Harris Yulin), who lived in an art-filled Malibu beachfront house; when asked, the bookish intellectual Marty described their affair as not serious: "For me, it's not too serious. For Ellen, ask her. I'd be guessing"; Harry was provoked when Marty began to examine details about Harry's own past he had learned from Ellen, including a failed football career and child abandonment, and how he had tracked down his lost parents with clues: ("What a great athlete you were. But you were different. You were brighter, you're more sensitive...Ellen told me how you were left by your parents when you were very young and you were brought up by relatives and what kind of effect that had on you...It's a clue, isn't it? I mean, isn't that what you do, you look for clues? Didn't you track down your parents and find them? Mr. Keen Tracer-of-Lost-Persons?")
  • once he returned home, Harry brought up Ellen's affair with Marty, and she asked why he hadn't come to her first; she also accused him of treating her affair like one of his cases: "You wanted to trap me and make me incriminate myself, and then you could go get the evidence, like I was one of your crummy divorce cases. It's a wonder you didn't photograph the bed while you were there"; he felt like she was criticizing his life style and his work (calling it a "joke") because of his decision to do small-time independent work instead of working for Nick's agency
  • to distract himself from his domestic issues, Harry visited the New Mexico film set, there, he spoke to director Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns) and stuntman/pilot Marv Ellman; at a country-western bar after a day of shooting, Harry was stunned to hear the studly, female-chasing Marv openly admitted his two-timing of both mother and daughter: "Me and Arlene, we got it on together a couple of times. There's nothing like having a mother and a daughter. Gives you sort of a kind of perspective. Know what I mean?"; he also called the "magic mechanic" Quentin a "weirdo...a freak"; when Joey was asked: "You think Delly knew that Marv and her mother were making it?", he answered: "A blind man on a gallopin' horse would've known. Arlene ain't Lillian Gish"

Stuntman-Pilot Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello)

Stunt Director Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns)

Quentin Working on Marv's Airplane in NM
  • the next morning as Harry left the New Mexico movie set, he observed that Quentin, who had been called to the set, was tinkering with Marv's airplane - a foreshadowing
  • during another brief visit with Arlene back in her LA home, she invited Harry to share in her big bathtub, but he declined: ("Maybe some other time when I'm feeling really dirty"); Arlene was upset to learn from Harry that Delly had an affair with Marv in New Mexico - "I think maybe she's tryin' to even up the score"; in fact, Delly was seducing both of her mother's ex-lovers: stuntman/pilot Marv Ellman and Arlene's second ex-husband Tom Iverson (who was running a charter boat business in the Florida Keys for the last six months); Harry realized Delly would probably be found in the Florida Keys with her step-father Tom Iverson
  • during a short conversation with Ellen in their driveway before leaving for Florida, Harry was sarcastically insulted by his cheating wife to remain and talk out their issues: "Couldn't that wait a day so we could talk?" - but he insisted that he had to leave immediately to pursue recent leads; she minimized his work and insulted him: "Why? So you can pretend you're solving something?"
  • Harry tracked Delly to the Florida Keys, where the liberated Delly was living with her "bum" stepfather Tom Iverson (John Crawford) and his sexy hippie mistress Paula (singer Jennifer Warren), who was found feeding dolphins at the dock; Harry introduced himself to Paula as a "private investigator" searching for Tom's missing stepdaughter Delly
  • at Iverson's place, Delly was first seen unclothed behind a clothesline (similar to Brigitte Bardot's entrance in ...And God Created Woman (1956, Fr.)); Harry quickly realized there was a sexual menage-a-trois, love-triangle of sorts between the threesome, and Harry was also rapidly becoming infatuated with Paula
  • that evening, Tom admitted to Harry that he was physically-enticed by the provocative Delly, and it would be better for him if she returned to LA: "I want that kid the hell outta here. You see, I, uh, - I get pretty foolish with her, and I - uh, you've seen her. God, there oughta be a law!" [Note: There were other undisclosed reasons to remove Harry from the property]
  • at the same time, Harry also had to deflect the advances of the tempting and seductive Delly - revealed in a conversation with Paula, after he saw Delly wearing one of his shirts and preparing to shower in his room: (Paula: "Did she offer you the key to the city?" Harry: "Well, no. It was more like a sightseeing tour" Paula: "How do you resist?" Harry: "Oh, I just think good, clean thoughts, like Thanksgiving, George Washington's teeth")
  • the same evening with a bottle of bourbon, Harry was playing chess with himself, re-enacting a famous game from 1922, when Paula asked pointedly: "You beating yourself?"; she admitted that she knew how to play: ("I know the moves"); he explained the famous game: "Black had a mate, didn't see it. Queen sacrifice. And three little knight moves. Check. Check. Check." He then gave his reaction to the defeat: "...he didn't see it. He played something else, and he lost. Must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have. Matter of fact, I do regret it, and I wasn't even born yet" [Note: The game was between K. Emmrich (white) and Bruno Moritz (black), played in Hamburg, Germany. Moritz could have won by sacrificing his Queen followed by three knight moves, but didn't see it and lost. Harry was confessing and foretelling how he had lost in life, was often misdirected, and didn't notice the obvious.]
  • at the dock the next day, Delly refused to return to California with PI Moseby: (Delly: "Are you kidding?...Well, you can forget it. I'm not going back to that bitch!...She doesn't want me. The money! I know Arlene and so does Tom. He hates her as much as I do"); Delly rightly believed that Arlene's intentions to have her back were only selfish and due to her trust fund
  • during a night-time dive sequence from a glass-bottom boat (named "Point of View"), Harry learned more about Paula's varied and "bleak" background: "I taught school, I kept house. I waited tables. I did a little stripping, a little hooking, and I trod a lot of water"; she wondered about his profession: "Do you ask these questions because you wanna know the answer, or is it just something you think a detective should do?"
  • during the dive, the fully-nude Delly discovered a crashed plane with the decomposed remains of the pilot; fish were seen eating at the dead pilot's eyes; Delly didn't reveal that the dead pilot was Marv Ellman, her own lover and one of Arlene's ex-boyfriends; a marker was left at the crash site to alert the Coast Guard
Delly's Nighttime Nude Dive and Shocking Discovery of Decomposing Skull of Pilot Marv Ellman in Submerged Plane
  • the crash was allegedly an accident, but more probably the result of a larger plot - and specifically the actions of greasy LA mechanic Quentin, Delly's former boyfriend, who had monkeyed with the plane's mechanics to sabotage the plane, in order to get back at Marv for stealing Delly away; it was kept from Harry that the plane piloted by Marv held stolen smuggled goods from Mexico (the film's MacGuffin); when Tom was notified, he blamed the crash on the legend of the Devil's Triangle; the same night, Paula came to Harry's room and seduced him - to keep him distracted
  • after the traumatic discovery, Delly changed her mind about leaving and begged Harry to take her back to LA to live with her mother Arlene; he returned her and was paid off, but soon regretted that he had delivered her back into a squabbling, family situation, after Quentin in the driveway sarcastically criticized him: "You brought another happy family together"
  • Harry entered Marty's beach home and interrupted Ellen having sex in the back bedroom with Marty; Harry struggled to reconcile his marriage by proposing that he would give up his detective agency: ("I'm gonna give up the agency... It's not for you. I'm doin' it for me"), and later at home in bed with Ellen, Harry described how he had finally tracked down his missing father in Baltimore, but then when he had the chance, he just walked away: ("I just sat there for a while and watched and then went away") - he had chosen to become estranged, but now he didn't want to repeat the situation; she asked for him to not be remote and return to her: "We've taken a long time to get this far. I don't wanna pour it all away"
  • their newfound rapprochement was interrupted by news that Delly had suspiciously died in a car accident on location, on an LA movie set where she was a stunt extra; Joey Ziegler was driving the car and had survived, but was seriously injured and required to wear a half-body cast on his right arm and side; with Harry, Ziegler watched amateur 16 mm documentary footage shot at the scene, showing mechanic Quentin tinkering under the green 1940s Ford: ("We had some trouble under the car. Muffler or something like that, and he went in and fixed it")

Harry with Injured Ziegler (with cast) Watching Video Footage At the Time of the Crash

Quentin During Setup of Scene, Tinkering Under the Car

Ziegler Had Set Delly's Passenger Seat Belt

Delly's Bloodied Face
  • the accident compelled Harry to return to the case; he suspected foul play and important questions needed answers: Was the accident orchestrated by Ziegler who had set Delly's safety belt? What part did mechanic Quentin also play in the murder, if any? ("Could he have futzed that car?"), and Was Delly silenced because she knew too much? Or Was it because Delly's trust would now transfer to Arlene?
  • Harry returned to Arlene's house after Delly's death, and was astonished by Arlene's drunken and indifferent reaction to Delly's passing ("I think that Delly never had a chance with you as her mother. She was on a downhill slide right from the start") - presumably because she financially benefitted from Delly's death: ("So I'm not grief-stricken. What does that make me?... Delly isn't the only kid who ever had it rough. When I was her age, I was down on my knees to half the men in this town. I'm sorry the poor little bitch is dead. And when the time comes, I'll cry for her, but you won't be around to see it, Mr. Smart-Ass-Moseby")
  • while grilling Quentin at his place, Harry listened as Quentin blamed Arlene since she was the only one with a clear motive to murder Delly; he further revealed to Harry that the dead pilot in the plane was Marv Ellman; Harry speculated that Delly didn't reveal Marv's identity to him to protect Quentin from being charged; Delly was silenced because she knew that the jealous Quentin had rigged the plane to crash: ("She figured you did it. You futzed the plane!"), but Quentin denied the accusation that he had tampered with the plane, and with the car that killed Delly: "She thought I had it in for him. I didn't....What would I wanna kill Delly for?"); Quentin fled on a motorcycle
  • Harry returned to Ziegler in his trailer to ask more questions about Tom and Paula - about how the accident was never reported as promised: "They never reported the plane to the Coast Guard. Why?"; Zielger admitted that Quentin and Tom had known each other - for years, they had been associates in the stunt business; that meant that Quentin had been working in cahoots with Delly's stepfather Tom (and Paula), and was responsible for the two accidents, including Ellman's plane and the auto-wreck; Harry realized he had to return to Florida to pursue Quentin, and told Ellen: "There's something wrong and I can figure it out"
  • upon Harry's return to Florida, the shocking ending culminated with the deaths of most of the key individuals: Quentin's body was found floating in Tom Iverson's dolphin pen swim area -- Tom had presumably murdered him; Harry found Tom at the dock on-board the glass-bottom boat and confronted him with a gun and asked about Quentin's murder; Tom admitted killing Quentin when he threatened to go to the Coast Guard to tell them about the unreported plane crash; the two engaged in a vicious fist-fight - ending with Iverson charged at Harry head-first and knocking himself out on a wooden piling (was he dead or not?)
  • with Paula, Harry insisted on knowing what was going on: "What the hell is going on? I wanna know"; she admitted the smuggling plan to Harry; she confessed that they were working in cahoots with pilot Marv Ellman to smuggle a pre-Colombian art sculpture into Florida piece by piece, over a period of months; Marv's plane had crashed with a major statue from Mexico, worth half a million dollars, that was still underwater
  • Harry demanded to return to the plane crash site in the glass bottom boat ("Point of View") to dive for the smuggled object, and Paula was incredulous: "You mean you're gonna solve the case and find the booty?"
  • as the sun rose on their trip to the dive-crash site, Paula and Harry set off to Marv's earlier sunken plane to again try and collect the large stolen Mayan statue inside the plane; Paula explained how she had naturally joined the criminal activities with Iverson and Marv: ("I got into it because I got involved with Tom"); Harry demanded confirmation from her that Tom had immediately returned to the crash site: ("That marker you left, that was for him, not the Coast Guard, so he could move your piece of junk away from the plane. And you kept me out of the way")
  • she devastated Harry by admitting that she had seductively distracted him with love-making the night of the plane's discovery, while Tom stealthily returned to the plane to unsuccessfully retrieve the Yucatan relic; she tried to reassure Harry: "What does it matter, Harry?...You're asking the wrong questions. Why don't you just be content you've solved the case," but he was still unsatisfied: ("I didn't solve anything. I just fell in on top of it")

Harry Strafed by Tom's Yellow Seaplane - Piloted by Ziegler

Harry Shot in the Leg
  • as Paula was underwater, Harry was attacked by Tom's yellow Piper Cub seaplane; with machine-gun fire fired by the pilot, Harry was hit in the leg; as Paula emerged on the surface from scuba diving, Joey deliberately landed the plane on the water and steered it and its pontoon to deliberately hit and kill Paula; the pontoon also struck the inflatable raft carrying the ancient statue and broke off
  • the disabled plane (with its missing undercarriage) crashed into Tom's boat where Harry was located; through the "point of view" of the glass-bottom boat AND the seaplane's window, Harry observed Ziegler caught in the plane's cockpit as he drowned in the sinking plane; Ziegler was still wearing the cast after the car accident that had killed Delly
  • the final image was of dying and bruised Harry, unable to stand up on Iverson's stranded glass bottom boat; he could only reach the throttle with a small fishing net, and ended up circling aimlessly about the Gulf of Mexico wreckage as he bled out and pounded his fist into a cushion: "I missed it"

Crash of Ziegler's Plane into Iverson's Boat

Harry Watched Helplessly as Ziegler Drowned in Plane's Cockpit

Harry's Own Uncertain Fate - Circling in a Boat Endlessly

Private Detective Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman)

Harry with Wife Ellen Moseby (Susan Clark)

Harry Moseby's Client: Divorcee Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) - Ex-Actress Mother of Delly

Harry Admiring Nick's Valuable Mexican Statues in His Office

Harry's Unfaithful Wife Ellen Moseby Discovered with Marty Heller (Harris Yulin) Outside Movie Theatre

Marty Confronted by Harry at His Beachhouse

Harry Confronting His Wife Ellen About Her Affair with Marty

Arlene - Upset That Delly Was Sleeping with Both Marv and Tom Iverson

Tom Iverson's Sexy Hippie Mistress Paula (Jennifer Warren)

Delilah "Delly" Grastner (Melanie Griffith) First Seen Behind Clothesline

Arlene's Ex Second Husband Tom Iverson (John Crawford) - Delly's Stepfather

Harry's Musings on A Famous Chess Game Defeat

Delly: "I'm not going back to that bitch!"

Uninhibited and "Liberated" Delly - Arlene's Daughter: "I'm not going back...!!"

Paula's Background Explained During Boat-Dive Trip

Paula Distracting Harry With Sex While Tom Went Back to the Sunken Plane

Harry's Story About Locating His Lost Father to Ellen

Delly's Mother Arlene: "So I'm not grief-stricken"

Quentin's Dead Body Floating in the Dolphin Pen Area

Harry Questioning Tom Iverson, Who Admitted Killing Quentin

Paula Preparing to Dive at the Plane Crash Site

Harry Awaiting Paula's Return

The Mayan Artifact-Statue Retrieved From Downed Plane by Paula

Death of Paula - Deliberately Hit in Open Water by Plane Piloted by Ziegler


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