‘Night Moves’ vs. ‘The Long Goodbye’


TCM airs one of my favorite film noirs, Night Moves, tonight at 12:15am as part the evening’s tribute to production designer George Jenkins. This 1975 film has been on my mind recently because I am scheduled to teach a course in film noir in the fall. It has been a long time since I have been able to devote an entire semester to one genre, and I want to give my film selection some serious thought. I am torn between using Night Moves by Arthur Penn and The Long Goodbye by Robert Altman to represent the Film School Generation, when certain directors experimented with the conventions, norms, and standards of Hollywood genres. These films have been dubbed experimental noirs, deconstructed noirs, and even anti-noirs, but whatever you call them, they do represent a different treatment of the genre.



The late 1960s and 1970s proved to be a productive and creative era in American filmmaking that introduced directors such as Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Penn. College-educated and film literate, Penn and his contemporaries self-consciously played with the conventions of familiar genres. Film noir especially appealed to them because of its darkly romantic protagonist, beautiful visual style, and criticism of the status quo. In tinkering with the conventions of noir in Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, Farewell My Lovely, The Drowning Pool, and Night Moves, the directors of this era deconstructed, expanded, or commented on the characters and themes of the genre.



In Night Moves, Gene Hackman stars as small-time detective Harry Moseby who is hired by an aging film star to find her young, free-spirited daughter Delly, played by an even younger and more free-spirited Melanie Griffith. Harry follows the wayward teen from the studio backlots of Hollywood to a film set in New Mexico then to the Florida Keys, where Delly is staying with one of her many stepfathers. He escorts her back to Hollywood, assuming his job is done. But, Harry is not a very good detective, and when Delly turns up dead, he realizes too late that the case involved much more than finding a runaway.

Night Moves would be a good choice because it is set in both California and the Florida Keys. The film uses the Los Angeles setting so associated with hard-boiled detective fiction and classic film noir, yet much of it takes place in Florida, where many contemporary noirs have been set. The locations harken back to The Maltese Falcon but anticipate Body Heat.



The film’s dialogue also recalls the old days of Hollywood and noir classics like The Maltese Falcon as a way to compare Sam Spade to Harry Moseby. This narrative strategy forces a comparison between the past and present, between a bygone era of waning ideals and a new era of lost ideals. Characters in the film continually confront Harry with comments about old movie detectives. The client asks Harry, “Are you the kind of detective who once he gets on the case won’t let go?,” a reference to a key characteristic of detectives from days gone by. In an argument over her infidelity, Harry’s estranged wife goads him with, “Why don’t you take a swing like Sam Spade?” The references to the past are reminders that the world portrayed in classic noir might have been corrupt but it was still populated with people who knew the differences between right and wrong. Spade may have been cynical and tainted, but he was still savvy enough to solve the case. In the modern world, right and wrong no longer seem relevant, while detectives like Harry are not in the same league as Sam Spade.



Harry has difficulties communicating and interacting, which are definite liabilities for a detective. He turns off his answering machine in mid-message and fails to call back his clients. He works a case by driving around L.A. in his car, parking from time to time to conduct surveillance. Cocooned in his car, he sits alone, isolated from an outside world that he watches from a distance. He follows but does not confront. The game of chess becomes a metaphor for his inability to analyze and anticipate his opponents’ moves. Harry plays the game with himself, and he isn’t very good at it. The film’s title is a play on the phrase “knight moves,” which Harry explains to another character when describing a well-known chess game involving a famous player of long ago. The player did not make use of “three little knight moves,” which would have led him to victory. Instead, he played something else and lost the match. “He didn’t see it,” Harry explains, describing himself without realizing it.



Like other films from the Film School Generation, the character of Harry Moseby sums up the malaise and disillusionment in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era. Despite the intentions of the protest movements and counterculture to criticize war, racism, sexism, class issues, and other social problems during the 1960s, their naïve efforts to make the world a better place were not enough to stop war, stave off corruption, or to counter the despair that came from three major political assassinations in a five-year period. Penn and his generation realized the contemporary world was much bleaker than the slightly tainted environs of the classic noirs of long ago, a point driven home by the film’s reference to the Kennedy assassinations. “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” asks one character. “Which one?” a cynical Harry replies.



Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye also features an ineffectual private eye in a contemporary world too corrupt to sort out. An advantage to the Altman film is that the disillusionment is softened with humor. Elliott Gould stars as Philip Marlowe, but this interpretation of the character is not Chandler’s depiction of a tarnished knight in a corrupt land. Instead, Marlowe is a hopelessly lost remnant from a by-gone era. He drives around L.A. in a crumpled suit too dark for the pervasive sunshine, muttering beneath his breath about his sad-sack life. Gould is funny, admirable, and pathetic all at the same time in his search for the truth about his friend, Terry Lennox, who seems to have committed suicide. As in most film noirs, even from the classic era, social institutions such as law, justice, and marriage are depicted as too corrupt and dysfunctional to provide hope for our failing society.

Aside from Gould’s version of Marlowe, another source of humor is the music. The film’s theme song, “The Long Goodbye,” is the only background music heard throughout the movie, but it takes a variety of forms, from the musak in the grocery store to the pop song on the radio to the mariachi version in Mexico.



Both films make use of interesting casts and expert crews, which are always fun to talk about in class discussion. In addition to Jenkins, Night Moves boasts the participation of screenwriter Alan Sharp and cinematographer Bruce Surtees. Griffith isn’t the only surprise in the film: Character actors James Woods, Kenneth Mars, Max Gail, and Harris Yulin also appear in early roles.The Long Goodbye was written by Leigh Brackett, shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, and scored by John Williams. Like most of Altman’s movies, the cast is unusual and eclectic. Key roles are played by Sterling Hayden, director Mark Rydell, and Laugh-In cast member Henry Gibson. Nina van Pallandt, who was romantically involved with con artist Clifford Irving, plays the femme fatale, while baseball player Jim Bouton and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in small roles.

I am going to DV-R Night Moves tonight on TCM to see if that influences me to make a decision. But, I would also like to hear from TCM fans, movie buffs, and film noir aficionados who have seen both Night Moves and The Long Goodbye: Which would choose and why? Or, if you have been in a class that showed either film, please let me know your experiences as a student.

47 Responses ‘Night Moves’ vs. ‘The Long Goodbye’
Posted By Steve Burrus : April 27, 2015 4:32 pm

Well as to whicjh movie that you teach about don’t go by what I say because I haven’t ever seen one of them but I w ould recommend that u teach about Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodby”. I vaguely remember seeing that movie quite a few years ago. I DO love the way that Elliot Gould interpreted his role as the Phillip Marlowe-like detective. to quote you : “but this interpretation of the character is not Chandler’s depiction of a tarnished knight in a corrupt land.” No Gould put a light comic touch on the character that I admire.

Posted By Autist : April 27, 2015 4:53 pm

I love “Night Moves” but come close to hating “The Long Goodbye”. “Night Moves” seems to come from a place of affection for the private eye genre, even if its P.I. is ineffectual–like “Chinatown” in that respect. Whereas I get the feeling that Altman was contemptuous for both the genre and his audience. That might be a good reason to use both films, I suppose, and discuss the differences between them. I wouldn’t mind if “The Long Goodbye” were an outright parody–like “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, which I love, but which also comes from a place of affection for those types of movies and not of contempt. I might add that I’m not generally a fan of Altman’s movies, though I liked “The Player” and “Gosford Park”.

Posted By LD : April 27, 2015 5:34 pm

The only one of the films I have seen is THE LONG GOODBYE. I saw it when it was first released and at that time Nina van Pallandt was a focal point because of her affair with Irving and the Howard Hughes hoax. I saw it again a few years ago and enjoyed it more than the first time but I also appreciated Sterling Hayden being in it, something I did not do the first time around. THE LONG GOODBYE is not my favorite neo-noir nor is Gould my favorite Marlowe. Both Powell and Bogart brought humor to the character, especially Powell, and I do prefer them in the role. But I cannot compare it to NIGHT MOVES since I haven’t seen it. I will be recording it though and I really look forward to seeing it.

An entire semester of film noir. Lucky Students!

Posted By david l hartzog : April 27, 2015 5:54 pm

I’ve seen both films many times since viewing them in movie theatres, and think both are classic noir. Tough to choose one over the other, but Night Moves is the more complex film, with Gene Hackman very convincing as a p.i. over his head.

Posted By swac44 : April 27, 2015 5:57 pm

The Long Goodbye is one of my all-time favourites, and it seems like it’s been getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to comparisons to Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. For that reason, I’d probably go with Night Moves, just because it’s generally a little less remembered these days, and has some great surprises in it. Plus, even though I prefer the Altman film, I give the performance edge to Hackman who never fails to be compelling on screen.

Speaking of the Keys, have you seen the Netflix series Bloodline, Susan? Great use of the location and some terrific performances in a very tense family drama with a few noirish overtones.

Posted By Steve Burrus : April 27, 2015 6:05 pm

I don’t know abut Susan but I have seen a little bit of “Bloodline”. It is quite compelling but just where are the “noirish overtones”? I haven’t yet detected them.

Posted By Emgee : April 27, 2015 7:36 pm

Having seen both movies (film noir aficionado? Yup, that’s me pretty much summed up. I’d also accept addict), i’d go for Night Moves. For one, it’s a more suspenseful and dramatically rewarding movie. I like The Long Goodbye a lot, but it’s more of an anti-noir movie. Chandler’s Marlowe is a deeply moral man, whereas Altman’s Marlowe is totally detached and seemingly indifferent to what goes on around him. “That’s okay with me” is his stock response to whatever happens. Until the very end….

Marlowe doesn’t want to see, Harry Moseby looks but misses the big picture.

There’s a case to be made for either movie’it depends on what aspects of noir you want to focus on. Neo-noir or anti-noir, that’s the choice here.

Posted By Richard Brandt : April 27, 2015 8:12 pm

When I saw NIGHT MOVES, I saw the ending as a much bleaker take on the ending of John Huston and Richard Brooks’ KEY LARGO (1948). Only decades later did I realize Michael Curtiz and Ranald MacDougal had effectively done the same thing with THE BREAKING POINT (1950).

So which film you choose might depend on whether you want to compare NIGHT MOVES to either of those films, or THE LONG GOODBYE to other Chandler adaptations…

Posted By Susan Doll : April 27, 2015 8:43 pm

Thanks for the food for thought. I will be showing at least one other Marlow-Chandler noir from the classic era, so there would be a comparison. However, I am in agreement about the complexity and mood of Night Moves. I look forward to watching this eve.

SWAC44: I have not seen Bloodlines, but I am plan to binge-view it when it becomes available.

Posted By george : April 27, 2015 8:50 pm

Both movies are great. So much has been written about them, I don’t know what to add. A couple of thoughts did occur:

1. Melanie Griffith was under 18 when her nude scenes were shot for NIGHT MOVES. Would that result in the director’s arrest on child porn charges today?

2. I’ve read that in later years, Schwarzenegger denied he was in THE LONG GOODBYE, although he’s very visible in several shots (as seen above). Did he feel humiliated by having to strip down for that scene?

Posted By Ben Hatcher : April 27, 2015 8:53 pm

My vote is for Night Moves, for a number of reasons. The first is a selfish one: Night Moves has no Blu-Ray release, so any buzz for the film that could slowly make that a reality would be great. (It’s also its 40th anniversary this year.)

Moseby’s characterization is really well done, you really get the sense of a man blustering his way through life. The locations are great too, although The Long Goodbye is strong there as well.

Posted By Steve Burrus : April 27, 2015 9:03 pm

Hmm you cert ainly posed 2 tantalizing questions which will forever just dangle out there! The law’s “statute of limitations” took over concerning that film director’s arrest AND as far as Schwarzenegger, after being in all of those “Terminator” and other movies, then being the CA governor, and now trying to “claw his way” back into movies he ain’t about to ever answer any question about possible humiliation in any past movie of his!

Posted By Donald Liebenson : April 27, 2015 9:14 pm

I think of Robert Altman as more a Hollywood iconoclast than a part of the younger Film School Generation (Coppola, Lucas, etc). Plus, I prefer Long Goodbye. I attended USC at the time and Arthur Knight brought in Arthur Penn and Night Moves before it was released. It alienated much of the audience. So it’s got that going for it.

Posted By george : April 27, 2015 9:18 pm

Steve Burrus said: “the law’s “statute of limitations” took over concerning that film director’s arrest”

Plus the fact that Arthur Penn is dead and can’t be arrested anyway.

Griffith was not shy about nudity in her early career (see also JOYRIDE and BODY DOUBLE, both made when she was legal). I was surprised to hear she was upset by her daughter’s role in 50 SHADES OF GREY, considering what Melanie was up to in her younger days. There was also the Playboy spread she did with Don Johnson …

Susan: If you’re selecting movies for your film noir class, I recommend the unjustly neglected MIAMI BLUES (1990). Although much of it takes place in bright sunshine, it’s definitely noir in spirit and attitude. And it has what may be Alec Baldwin’s best performance. (Jennifer Jason Leigh ain’t bad, either.)

Posted By Richard Brandt : April 27, 2015 10:01 pm

And Melanie was even younger when she started dating Don…

I second everything George said about MIAMI BLUES. Might be Fred Ward’s best work, as well.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 27, 2015 10:30 pm

George: I don’t think Arnold was embarrassed about being in this film. Maybe he simply forgot he was in it. I don’t think he had many–if any–lines. He was never shy about stripping down to those tiny swim trunks they used in bodybuilding competitions, so I doubt if that was the reason.

I have always liked Melanie Griffith, partly because of her wild, impetuous youth. The 60s and 70s were another time and place; there was something both liberating and dangerous about attitudes toward highly unconventional lifestyles. I think she made the most of it. Those comments about her daughter in 50 Shades of Gray were off the cuff and then spun in a certain direction by the press. Later, she and her daughter talked about how supportive and proud she was of her daughter’s success.

Posted By AL : April 27, 2015 10:33 pm

I go with THE LONG GOODBYE. I always enjoy re-watching it. It’s fun, like MARLOWE. Wonder why nobody ever talks about HAMMETT ?

Posted By george : April 27, 2015 11:12 pm

NIGHT MOVES wasn’t the only good private eye movie released by Warner in 1975 with Melanie Griffith in a Lolita role. See also THE DROWNING POOL, the second Lew Harper (Archer) movie with Paul Newman. It may not be on the level of HARPER, but it’s pretty good on its own, with some of Gordon Willis’ most dark and moody photography.

Posted By george : April 27, 2015 11:49 pm

Susan Doll said: “The 60s and 70s were another time and place; there was something both liberating and dangerous about attitudes toward highly unconventional lifestyles.”

Yes, that was then and this is now. I doubt a director today would take nude shots of an underage actress. He’d probably use a body double for legal protection (and the double would have to be at least 18).

Unfortunately, the “anything goes” attitude in the ’60s and ’70s led some people, like Roman Polanski, to think kids were fair game for sexual conquest. I’m glad that attitude is no longer acceptable.

Posted By michaelgsmith : April 28, 2015 12:02 am

Great post. These films are both masterpieces and I love them both equally. I actually have shown them both in class to illustrate neo-noir. I think THE LONG GOODBYE comes across as hipper to modern audiences for many reasons (not least of which is the debt that INHERENT VICE owes it).

Posted By kingrat : April 28, 2015 12:25 am

Susan, I’d love to know what films you choose for the class. For some more offbeat choices, THE DAY OF THE OUTLAW (Western noir); THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (CITIZEN KANE redone as noir) or DEEP VALLEY (THE GLASS MENAGERIE or ROMEO AND JULIET as noir).

Posted By Susan Doll : April 28, 2015 12:52 am

I will keep everyone abreast of which films I might show, especially since I consider the TCM blog readers a resource of suggestions and experiences. However, I will probably approach it like I did this week, where I have a specific topic or era of noir and ask for opinions and suggestions on just that topic so that I can better recall and process the responses.

Posted By Gamera2000 : April 28, 2015 1:45 am

An excellent pair of films, both of which are great examples of 70′s noir. I would agree with those who cite NIGHT MOVES, a really complex and compelling dark noir with a bleak view of the world. By comparison, THE LONG GOODBYE always seemed to play as a dark semi-comic comment on Noir as a general and Phillip Marlowe in particular. In fact, I remember reviews as the time that attacked the film for betraying Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe in Gould’s performance.

Posted By oystercrakker : April 28, 2015 3:39 am

Although I can understand people who feel that Altman’s TLG is expressly intended to make audiences realize that the noir world of the forties and fifties was no more — & that in a sense, that WAS its very point — & is well done if you view it through that lens …

Nevertheless I’m one of those who personally hates that film because TLG is my favorite Chandler novel of all — & I feel that it still has the potential to be made into a superb film someday if it picked up the right director and a faithful mentality … If that ever happens, I’ll fix myself a gimlet!!

Posted By george : April 28, 2015 4:13 am

LONG GOODBYE has one of the most shocking bursts of violence I’ve ever seen in a movie — where Mark Rydell smashes his girlfriend’s face with a Coke bottle. Even Rydell’s thugs are shaken by it.

Posted By Emgee : April 28, 2015 9:05 am

Maybe Arnie was embarrassed about the puny mustache. Ha!

Posted By Cool Bev : April 28, 2015 12:54 pm

You mention that. Leigh Brackett wrote The Long Goodbye, but just to be clear – She also wrote The Big Sleep.

Posted By Autist : April 28, 2015 11:27 pm

“You mention that Leigh Brackett wrote The Long Goodbye, but just to be clear – She also wrote The Big Sleep.”

She also co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back”. Talented woman!

Posted By george : April 29, 2015 12:50 am

“She also co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back”. Talented woman!”


Posted By Autist : April 29, 2015 4:43 am


Which are basically the same movie!

Posted By Martha C. : April 29, 2015 5:39 pm

Have never seen Night Moves…will definitely try to catch it! Good luck in making a tough choice Susan. I happen to love ALL versions of The Long Goodbye, but have to agree, Altman’s version is almost anti-noir.

Posted By LD : April 30, 2015 11:53 am

Sterling Hayden is TCM’s Star of the Month for May. For those wanting to revisit THE LONG GOODBYE, or see it for the first time, it will air on Wed. May 27th at 11:45 p.m. ET.

Posted By Dan Oliver : April 30, 2015 7:29 pm

I watched Night Moves after not having seen it for over 30 years, and I have to say it just didn’t work for me. The script is overly self-conscious, the lighting is cheap-looking, and I swear to God, Arthur Penn couldn’t frame an interesting shot to save his life. I know that’s heresy to some people, but I’ve seen too many of his films to believe otherwise.

On the other hand, The Long Goodbye is a fascinating product of its era. Not everything in it works, but Altman and Zsigmond are miles ahead of Penn and Surtees, and it remains a strange, oddball, enjoyable movie.

Posted By CJR : May 1, 2015 12:38 am

I have never seen “The Long Goodbye”, but even if I had I would suggest “Night Moves”. I remember vacationing in Toronto when it came out. It played on the pay service on the TV in the hotel room (Yes, they had that back then). Anyway, I ordered it and thought I would take a glance and catch it when I returned later that evening. Instead, I sat on the edge of the bed all dressed up and watch it in its entirety. It is a beautiful, haunting neo-noir with a great Hackman performance (is there any other kind) and Jennifer Warren is a wonder. I wonder whatever happened to her. Also, the score by Michael Small is fantastic.

Posted By Steve Burrus : May 1, 2015 1:18 am

say I missed that showing of “Night Moves” the other nite because I can’t get TCM on my TV. Is there any way that I can get a dvd of it or possibly an online streaming version of it?

Posted By swac44 : May 1, 2015 7:22 pm

You can find the DVD for $5 or less on Amazon, or stream it through Amazon (and presumably other services).

Posted By george : May 1, 2015 9:25 pm


“Which are basically the same movie!”

And they did it a third time, with RIO LOBO.

Posted By cicero grimes : May 2, 2015 1:29 pm

Night Moves by a landslide. It stays alive in my memory long after repeated viewings of Goodbye have faded (for me , Altman almost always fades,with the exception of the landmark Nashville).I agree with CJR above, who calls out Jennifer Warren,who steals every scene she’s in, even from Hackman,no mean feat.I would also mention Ed Binns,in a smallish but crucial role.
Possible suggestion:Farewell,My Lovely,with Noirs’ most iconic icon,Robert Mitchum bridging the 40′s to the 70′s.
Consider teaching those 2 and ditch the Altman disrespectful take.

Posted By Donald Liebenson : May 2, 2015 5:57 pm

This is off-topic, Susie, but could you ask TCM to replay “Too Much Johnson.” I set my DVR to record it, but the movie gods were cruel that evening and somehow I wound up with 90 minutes of “Family Affair” reruns. Were that I was kidding.

Posted By Susan Doll : May 2, 2015 10:19 pm

Donald: I will ask if they are going to show it again. I wonder if they have plans to release it on DVD.

Posted By swac44 : May 5, 2015 7:29 pm

Not sure if this was posted previously, but Night Moves will air on TCM as part of its upcoming film noir blow-out, Summer of Darkness, on June 13 at 3:30 a.m. Set your DVRs!

Here’s a page with a link to the full schedule:


Posted By swac44 : May 5, 2015 7:31 pm

Oops, The Long Goodbye is on the sched too, on July 4 at 2:30 a.m. (I’m assuming these slots are Eastern Daylight Time).

Posted By LD : May 7, 2015 10:14 pm

swac44-Thank you for the Summer of Darkness link. Now I can plan well in advance those films I want to see. Actually, I would like to see all of them that I haven’t seen already, but that will be impossible, so some research is required. Once again, thanks for your help.

Posted By tolly devlin : May 19, 2015 5:41 pm

I love both moviesbut I think you should go with Night Moves. I recall when this movie was released that one critic felt it was a better & more metaphorically richer Bicentennial film than 1776. I don’t remember the critic but I do remember his contention about the truth being being hard to fathom. Also, you could compare Hackman’s pertformance from this with his role in The Conversation. I believe his character has a line about watching a Resnais film is like watching paint dry.

Posted By Paul Dionne : May 20, 2015 11:35 pm

@Emgee, I completely disagree that Gould’s Marlowe is not moral. I think the point is that he is completely a man out of his time in the sex and drugs ’70′s. In fact, that’s why the detachment comes in, and the character seems so hapless. Otherwise, he would not feel so betrayed by Lennox’s duplicity.

The Long Goodbye, Night Moves, and Miami Vice are all great. If you want an example of neo-noir sham, that would be Body Heat.

Posted By robbushblog : May 29, 2015 7:14 pm

I must loudly proclaim that neither title is really noir, but instead neo-noir, due to the time frame in which they were made and to the stricter rule concerning black and white. I’m a stickler when it comes to those rules. I much prefer NIGHT MOVES. It’s pretty good. THE LONG GOODBYE isn’t terrible, but I’m not really fan of Altman, and his fingerprints show all over the movie. I just saw NIGHT MOVES for the first time a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, except for the wife subplot. That could have been excised, but without it we wouldn’t get the idea of how truly clueless he was. Not only was he clueless about the case, but clueless in regards to his own wife. For another neo-noir worth a look, see BRICK, starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt as a high schooler looking for his missing ex-girlfriend. The dialogue is more noir than the dialogue in either of these two movies you had us choose.

Posted By Dan Murphy : June 26, 2015 10:15 pm

I’ve seen Night Moves on VHS. In fact, I have both Night Moves and The Long Goodbye on VHS and just recently bought those off of Amazon. Never saw The Long Goodbye, but I will pop it in the VCR one of these days. I am a big film noir fan and neo-noir fan. If I had to pick one, I would pick Night Moves because back in 1975, this movie didn’t get a lot of attention when it first came out. One of the most obvious reasons was that Jaws came out the same month. The concept was that because Jaws was very easy to understand, Night Moves failed because it was complicated and complex. To me, watching Night Moves during the summertime was a great thing to do. I would recommend Night Moves to those who love film noir and to those who haven’t seen it.

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