11. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Screenplay by Coppola
A surveillance expert played by Gene Hackman uncovers a murder plot he thinks he understands in what has been called “the audio version of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up”. To be fair, The Conversation is a far better film than Blow-Up and is perhaps not as lauded today as it should be due to its position in the Coppola filmography between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974).
12. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974)
Screenplay by Peter Stone based on the John Godey novel
This source of the color-coded names in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs has been remade twice with less than spectacular results. Stick with the original starring Walter Matthau and watch Robert Shaw’s great performance as the leader of a group of heavily armed men who hold the passengers of a subway train hostage and demand a ransom.
13. The Yakuza (Sydney Pollack, 1974)
Screenplay by Paul Schrader, Robert Towne and Leonard Schrader
This underrated “West meets East” crime film starring Robert Mitchum went on to influence later films like John Frankenheimer’s The Challenge (1982) and J.F. Lawton’s The Hunted (1995). The Yakuza’s influence on Ridley Scott’s 1989 Black Rain even extends to both films featuring the highly regarded Japanese actor Ken Takakura in a major supporting role. The Yakuza also contains the welcome presence of Richard Jordan, one of the great character actors of 1970s cinema.
14. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
Screenplay by Frank Pierson based on articles by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore
Director Lumet and star Al Pacino followed up on the success of Serpico with another fact-based crime film, this one the story of a bank robbery that turns into a hostage situation. Dog Day Afternoon generated multiple Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Pacino and Best Supporting Actor for Chris Sarandon. The great character actor Lance Henriksen can be seen here in a brief but important role as an FBI agent.
15. Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)
Screenplay by Alan Sharp
Gene Hackman plays a private detective who becomes more lost the deeper he delves into a missing persons case. The grim tone of the film can be summed up by a brilliant exchange between the detective and his wife. When she asks him who is winning the football game he’s watching on television he replies: “Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other.” Screenwriter Sharp also wrote the script for Robert Aldrich’s superb 1972 Western Ulzana’s Raid. When people are asked what the late director Penn’s masterpiece is, too many answer with Bonnie & Clyde. The real answer is Night Moves.
16. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
Screenplay by Carpenter
Armed with a great score and unnecessarily remade in 2005, this excellent film about a small group trapped in a police station fighting off a heavily armed gang is unjustly excluded from conversations about the great dark crime films of the 1970s for several reasons including the fact that the film was made by a director who is now almost exclusively known for horror and science fiction films. Also, the film was not a big financial or critical success and was overshadowed by Carpenter’s legendary mega-hit Halloween (1978). Part of Assault’s appeal is the great acting from Austin Stoker and the late Darwin Joston, two performers who deserved far better careers.
17. Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, 1977)
Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould
The formidable acting duo of William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones play a pair of Vietnam veterans out to avenge the mutilation of Devane’s character and the murder of his wife and son. Always an undervalued actor and coming off a great supporting performance in the previous year’s suspense thriller Marathon Man, Devane gives a powerful and subtle lead performance here.
18. The Squeeze (Michael Apted, 1977)
Screenplay by Leon Griffiths based on the James Tucker novel “Whose Little Girl Are You?”
This is an overlooked gem featuring a great lead acting performance from Stacy Keach as an alcoholic ex-cop going up against the gang that kidnapped his former wife. With outstanding performances in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968), The New Centurions (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Killer Inside Me (1976), this film and The Ninth Configuration (1980), Keach was the single most underrated screen actor of that period in American cinema.
19. Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard, 1978)
Screenplay by Edward Bunker, Alvin Sargent and Jeffrey Boam based on Bunker’s novel “No Beast So Fierce”
This very underrated film contains one of Dustin Hoffman’s most accomplished and overlooked performances as an ex-convict who gets drawn back into his previous life of crime and ends up participating in an ill-fated robbery. Character actor M. Emmett Walsh also shines in the film as a ruthless parole office.
20. Hardcore (Paul Schrader, 1979)
Screenplay by Schrader
Try and forget the studio-imposed ending and the film’s naïve placement of pornographic films just a hair’s breadth away from bestiality and snuff films. If you can, you’ll be treated to one of the great performances of George C. Scott’s career as a conservative father trying to find his runaway daughter in the dark underbelly of Los Angeles.
Other Notable Neo-Noir films of the 1970s
These are films that didn’t make the cut for the main list for various reasons but are still well worth seeking out or revisiting.
Hickey & Boggs (Robert Culp, 1972), The New Centurions (Richard Fleischer, 1972), Prime Cut (Michael Ritchie, 1972), Sitting Target (Douglas Hickox, 1972), Slaughter (Jack Starrett, 1972), The Outfit (John Flynn, 1973), The Seven-Ups (Philip D’antoni, 1973), Truck Turner (Jonathan Kaplan, 1974), Report to the Commissioner (Milton Katselas, 1975), Gator (Burt Reynolds, 1976), The Killer Inside Me (Burt Kennedy, 1976), The Silent Partner (Daryl Duke, 1978), Who’ll Stop the Rain (Karel Reisz, 1978)
Author Bio: Terek Puckett is an actor, screenwriter and film writer based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Wright State University in Ohio and his areas of film expertise include horror cinema and neo-film noir. More of his film writing can be seen here: http://www.soundonsight.org/author/terek-puckett/.