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Night Moves


Back when we had the FSM CD label, we would often receive requests for scores to release. It was part of the fun and normal operations of having a soundtrack label.


One of the requests I received a lot—especially after we released Klute, by the same composer and from the same studio—was Night Moves, the 1975 neo-noir starring Gene Hackman. Fans would write me and rave about the Michael Small score.


Alas, we researched and Warner Bros. did not have any music master tapes. I checked with the Small family, who didn’t either. So that was the end of that.


However...I had never actually seen Night Moves. That is, until last night.


I really enjoyed it! Hackman is terrific, as is the direction by Arthur Penn. The film is saturated in that mid-1970s malaise that emerged in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate and is comfort food to those of us who grew up lionizing these films for their quality and authenticity.


The structure is odd: the detective barely detects anything, until the third act when the pieces all sort of fall into place around him. It’s mostly concerned with his failing marriage and how it ties into the human urge to connect. Great supporting cast, with Jennifer Warner and a young James Woods. Shocking how much nudity there is from then-underage Melanie Griffith—but wow, a star is born.


And yeah, the score is excellent. It’s primo ’70s scoring, that unique sound that came from Small, Schifrin, Fielding, Goldsmith, Grusin, Shire, Q. Jones, O. Nelson—part jazz, part avant garde. It’s like an all-time great Columbo score, but not for Columbo!


Here’s a YouTube rip of excerpts:

So I’m sorry to say there’s no album and as far as I’m aware, there won’t be.


But there was this song adapted from the score’s main theme, lyrics and vocals by Michael Franks on his 1976 album, The Art of Tea:

I was born in 1974 so my earliest memories are of the world looking like this: bad hair, bad clothes, all that falling-apart furniture on ugly carpets. (For some reason, there was a kind of brown-green pall to everything.)


But I later got into these films, big-time, in the 1990s, when I was starting and growing Film Score Monthly. Friends, particularly Nick Redman, turned me onto depressing 1970s cinema and their super cool scores. So I have nostalgia for these films on two levels—and it was it delightful to discover one I hadn’t seen, which is executed so very well.


By the way, head on over to the official Michael Small music where they have an excerpt of the main title—and sound clips from many other of his projects.

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Ariel Sokol
Ariel Sokol
Oct 17, 2022

Lukas: I saw this movie a couple of years ago when I was focusing on 1970s noir. Perhaps I saw this after The Long Goodbye.


I'm surprised that you (like other film critics) like this movie as much as you did. In my opinion, this was a bit of a bore. The only compelling aspect of the film related to witnessing a young James Woods in a leading role. Obviously my opinion is just that. Gene Hackman is a great actor (with Hoosiers his best role), but I didn't see it with this film.


Not sure if you wrote anything about The Long Goodbye. That stands out as one of the best noir films and one of the best o…

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Neil Bulk
Neil Bulk
Oct 16, 2022

Siskel and Ebert talked about it on an episode devoted to overlooked movies from the 70s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDT8QgbZVG8&t=696s

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Lukas Kendall
Lukas Kendall
Oct 16, 2022
Replying to

That's great, thanks! Awww...I miss prime Siskel and Ebert.

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Pierre Magnan
Pierre Magnan
Oct 16, 2022

Very interesting how Hackman's character is always, always grasping, compulsively, until the very end when he grasps for the controls of the boat, doing the "move" that appears to be the right one on its face, but as in the chess metaphor is the wrong one.

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Lukas Kendall
Lukas Kendall
Oct 16, 2022
Replying to

I love all those movies about failure!

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sturges1947
sturges1947
Oct 16, 2022

Losing Small at such a relatively early age was a great loss for film music. What I really enjoyed about his music was how elusive some of his themes were. You had to hear them about 2-3 times to nailed them down in your memory. Thanks for filling in some of his essential discography, Lukas.


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Lukas Kendall
Lukas Kendall
Oct 16, 2022
Replying to

Our pleasure! I agree about his themes, though Night Moves seems instantly catchy!

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