The year was 1975, I was ten years old and my Mom and my cousin Charlotte were taking me to see Jaws. This was huge for me. Jaws was all the rage.
Everywhere you went you heard about Jaws, saw posters and T-shirts of Jaws. The commercials. The music. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Quint getting chewed in half and blood spurting out of his mouth. It was wonderful.
And nowhere was Jaws a bigger phenomenon then at school. It was like Christmas. Our teachers were constantly having to settle us down, threatening us with, “…If I hear another word about Jaws everybody’s staying after school.”
So on that pivotal, transformative day we had to first drop my brother off at my aunt and uncle’s because he was too young to see Jaws. I wanted to wait in the station wagon because I was on pins and needles–I could barely contain my excitement– but my mother would hear nothing of it.
“No. We’re going in and have some coffee and cake with you aunt and uncle. Then we’ll go to the movie.”
It was at the table while we were eating cherries jubilee over sponge cake that my uncle suddenly raised his fork in the air and lobed a grenade my way. I remember it like it was yesterday. “I don’t think you should take Pam to see Jaws. It’s too violent,” he declared.
Well that’s when my world blew apart, right then and there. (My mother valued my uncle’s opinion. He was an elder of the church.) It wasn’t the first time it blew apart. There had been bad things that had happened like my parents getting divorced and my Mom undergoing a very rare and serious surgery from which she narrowly survived. So, yes, I had experienced worse things–but not too many.
Thank goodness my mother over ruled my uncle. (She had a habit of doing that. He didn’t pay any of our bills.) “Your probably right. She probably shouldn’t see it, but I’ve already told her she could. I think she can handle it.”
That was that. I got to go. And it was terrifying. And traumatic. I was afraid to take a bath or go swimming for months afterward…And I loved it. It gave me lots of street cred at school. (We went to a private Christian school so street cred was extremely rare and those that had it–no matter how fleeting–were held in high esteem.) It’s one of my most treasured memories.
My Mom was a warrior. God bless her.
Jaws premiered June 20, 1975. The director, Steven Spielberg, was a shaggy headed twenty-six year old, who had made a name for himself within the Hollywood film community by calming the notoriously difficult diva Joan Crawford when he directed her in an episode of Night Gallery. Then he directed the critically acclaimed television movie Duel and the well received full length feature film The Sugarland Express.
These endeavors earned him the right to direct Jaws after producers had second thoughts about director Dick Richards (Farewell My Lovely). Jaws was an unprecedented cinematic phenomena, breaking all previous box office records and propelling Steven Spielberg into upper most hemisphere of hallowed film directors where he resides to this day.
Nine days before Jaws opened another film by veteran and one time famed director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, The Miracle Worker, Little Big Man) debuted. A smart neo noir in which the ocean, coincidentally, played a pivotal role, it starred one of the eras most prolific leading men.
Gene Hackman was on a roll having won the academy award for best actor four years before for his performance as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection and being nominated for the same award in 1974 for his role in The Conversation. In Night Moves, he re-teamed with Penn having played Buck Barrow in the director’s groundbreaking Bonnie and Clyde. But with everyone’s attention on a great white shark chewing up the scenery–and practically everything else–nobody noticed.
The opening musical theme of Night Moves alerts you right away that something is amiss. It begins with a gentle, yet ominous musical progression on the xylophone. The keys are struck ever so lightly so that the run is pleasant but cold with anharmonic suspended overtones.
The music accompanies Harry Moseby, (Gene Hackman) a Los Angeles private detective and ex pro football player, who likes to play solo chess on stakeouts in his vintage Mustang. Harry thinks of himself as a rugged Renaissance man. He’s not adverse to a nice glass of wine and fondue while lying bed but that begs the question: is it really smart to play chess on a stakeout? Might one miss something?
It is ever so easy to miss something in Night Moves. The plot is very complicated. And it all begins with a missing persons case. (Yeah I know. Who would’a thunk it?)
Harry gets called to aging sweater girl Arlene Grastner’s house. Her sixteen year old daughter has run off. She’s a real sleazebucket–the mother, that is. Her biggest assets are her pendulous breasts and–unfortunately for us–she lets them fly, unencumbered, in true 70s style.
The girl’s name is Delly and she is the recipient of a trust fund from her late father. Her slut of a mother won’t see a dime of the money if they don’t reside together, so mommie dearest hires Harry to track her down.
The trail leads Harry all the way to the Florida Keys where he finds Delly (Melanie Griffith) hiding out with Tom Iverson (John Crawford) one of her mother’s ex husbands and his fiance Paula (Jennifer Warrens). Harry finds out that Delly has been passed around by a group of stuntmen and show biz hangers-on all of whom have had trysts with Arlene. Tom Iverson is no different in this regard. He carries on a sexual relationship with Delly right under his fiance Paula’s nose. And she doesn’t care.
Harry, who is in his own unhappy marriage, has eyes for Paula. Before long they bed down in a pathetic one night stand in which there has never been a more obvious patsy besides Lee Harvey Oswald. Disgusted with what his investigation has turned up and with himself (when Paula rejects him the next day) Harry decides that Delly–who he has become protective of–would be better off with her mother. He also wants to give his marriage a second shot so he talks Delly into going back home.
Back in Los Angeles Harry reunites with his wife and things seem to be on the upswing when he hears that Delly–who had run away again–has been killed in a movie stunt. Devastated and demoralized, he can’t let her death go. Sensing something is wrong about the accident he begins to circle back through the scummy world of Delly and her mother’s Hollywood Lotharios and sugardaddies. This nasty bathtub ring encircles a familiar group of stunt drivers, mechanics and pilots and an amorous couple who live on an otherwise uninhabited island off the southern Florida coast.
Meanwhile poor Harry keeps going around and around and around. So many things have escaped his notice. And now he’s back at square one. I guess that’s what happens when you play solo chess on a stakeout.