6. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Again in New York, Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) works a desk job for the CIA. He translates and deciphers stories published all over the world in order to transpire secret political messages. One day he gets back to work only to find all of his colleagues dead.
The first thing he does is to contact a central office of the CIA, following the emergency procedures instructed to him. It is not the case that the CIA comes out to help him, however, and he is drawn into a plot involving different forces within the CIA as well as private hired killers. Joseph Turner has to figure out who was really behind the attempt at his life and the death of his colleagues and whom he can trust.
Along the way, Joseph is faced with the ethical implications of working for the CIA, a government agency that does not seem to think much of taking someone’s life. Joseph finds sanctuary with a random woman he picks out on the street, namely Katy Hale (Faye Dunaway), who provides him with a safe haven of trust and a temporary point of refuge.
While it is more of a criticism of government agencies and their relation to the public than a reflection of the changes in popular culture, Three Days is again a portrait of how post-JFK America is going through substantial changes, as experienced by a man on his journey to find out the truth.
7. Night Moves (1975)
Gene Hackman plays Harry Moseby, an ex-college football player making due by working as a private investigator. He is asked to find out where Delly, the daughter of a Hollywood b-list starlet has run off to. Delly represents the sexually emancipated new wave of teenagers following the sexual revolution of the sixties. Harry, on the other hand, very much represents the archetypical and consequently anachronistic Private Dick.
Early on in the film, we see Harry following his wife after seeing her on the street. He encounters her meeting someone else than she said she would. Harry is suspicious and his detective’s instinct is correct, it seems that his wife is having an affair. It is in wake of this confrontation that Harry goes on his cross-country search to find Delly.
After a fight, while Harry takes-off to go in search of the missing Delly, his wife hints at one of the themes shared by many of the movies in this list, namely that he is just running away from himself, rather than searching for someone else.
In his search, Harry ends up in the Florida Keys, where we are shown the tropical scene of a strange trio made up of Delly, her stepfather and his funky girlfriend. The missing person-case soon develops into a complex plot involving murder and international smuggling.
As Harry becomes tied up in a more and more complex relationship with the other actors in the plot, he eventually learns that the immoral acts of others are beyond his control and that his instincts when it comes to whom he can trust are not infallible.
8. The American Friend (1977)
Wim Wender’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game presents us with a gripping neo-noir film about a picture framer called Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz), his trying to cope with a rare blood disease and his friendship with a criminal involved in art forgery named Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper).
Zimmerman has a rare blood disease, but as it is rare his doctor cannot really tell him what its consequences will be. His doctor does tell him, however, that he is healthy and that he shouldn’t worry. Jonathan is, naturally, not fully convinced. At an art auction, he is introduced to Tom Ripley. Jonathan acknowledges Ripley’s presence with a cold utterance of the words “I’ve heard of you”, which doesn’t sit right with Ripley who is aware of his reputation.
A mutual acquaintance tells Ripley that Zimmerman is under a lot of pressure as he has a “hopeless” blood disease, which might be terminal, and that his behavior is to be explained in light of this. Jonathan continues his life with his wife and children, pending between his shop and their dockside apartment.
In the meantime, Ripley is visited by a French gangster called Minot (Gerard Blain) who asks him to arrange a hit on another gangster. Ripley tells him that he does not want to get involved, to which Minot replies that Ripley owes him. Next, we see Ripley ordering a picture frame at Zimmerman’s shop.
During this visit, it seems that Ripley and Zimmerman strike up a friendship. At the same time, however, we gradually get the picture that Ripley referred Zimmerman to Minot for the hit and that he spread the rumor that Zimmerman might be dying from his blood disease, which might make him more susceptible for taking on the job.
Minot approaches Jonathan and offers 250,000 Mark and a second opinion on his blood disease while they are traversing by tram through Hamburg. Minot tells him that he knows he is dying and that his doctor has not been telling him the truth, thereby confirming Jonathan’s worst fear.
Minot and Ripley incarnate Jonathan’s fear of death. In the film we are presented with the lengths Jonathan will go in face of his fears and with the fact that Jonathan might not be the quiet and peaceful picture framer that we, and he himself, initially take to be.
At the same time, Jonathan and Ripley do actually become friends, with the former unaware of Ripley’s involvement in the set-up. This movie is perhaps the most enthralling instantiation of the neo-noir theme where the main characters’ trust in their fellow man is put to the test and where their existential crises is sketched throughout a crime-ridden search orchestrated by those around them.
9. Hardcore (1979)
George C. Scott plays a conservative Calvinist mid-west businessman who needs to go out to sordid Los Angeles in order to find his daughter. As his daughter doesn’t return from a church trip to Bellflower, California, Jake Van Dorn (Scott) hires a private investigator named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), who asks him to come down to L.A. Once there, Andy shows Jake an amateur porno featuring his missing daughter.
Disillusioned with Andy’s reports and the little help he receives from the official authorities, Jake engages in his own search to find his daughter, whom he believes to have been unwillingly ensnared in the porn industry. At first, Jake gives an off-hand try at visiting porn establishments and whore houses along the Los Angeles strips and boulevards, which doesn’t result in much. He decides to pose as a porn producer and teams up with a small-time porn actress called Niki (Season Hubley) in order to find out where his daughter might be.
On their search together, these two wildly different characters actually start to bond and to relate to each other. Niki is finally around a man that doesn’t approach her as an object instrumentalized by money and sex, and hence she can truly open-up and talk about herself. As he is away from the conservative community, Van Dorn is able to talk about his divorce, himself and his feelings regarding his wife and daughter.
What we have here is thus again a very unlikely candidate for a private investigator, namely a mid-western businessman. On the other hand, he also represents the old-school private detective in his sense of morality, which in the end is shown to be clearly out of touch with reality.
It seems that the middle-aged middle-class of the mid-west did not really acknowledge the sexual revolution of the sixties, and that this created a discrepancy between the parents and their children, who are growing up in this new society. Even more so, ever since the divorce, Van Dorn’s daughter has been lacking any kind of loving attention, as her father is quite distant in this respect, which might be one of the factors that drove her towards this completely different lifestyle.
Michael Chapman, who also did the cinematography for Taxi Driver, and Schrader, who wrote the script for Taxi Driver, are excellent at capturing the seedy side of 1970s Los Angeles and one man’s investigative journey through it.
10. Cutter’s Way (1981)
As in The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges plays an easy-going guy who together with his veteran friend Cutter (John Heard) is involved in a scheme deployed by a rich prominent figure in Southern California. One rainy evening while coming back from entertaining a lady friend, Richard Bone’s (Bridges) car breaks down in an alleyway.
A car stops behind him, the driver gets out and dumps something in one of the trash cans that clutter the alley. As he leaves his broken car behind, whilst preoccupied with finding shelter from the rain, Bone does not attach any special significance to what he just witnessed. The next morning, however, a brutally murdered young woman is found in the trash next to Bone’s car.
The same day, Bone, Cutter and Cutter’s wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) go to a parade that features some of the prominent figures of Santa Barbara. Bone recognizes one of them to be the guy that he saw last night, namely a local magnate that owns half of the town. Cutter is intrigued and goes off on what Bone would call, one of his ‘imaginary stories’ and takes Bone with him by instilling a sense of moral responsibility, something Bone lacks in his general approach to life.
The suspense in this film hinges very much on the fact that Cutter is a veteran and that we don’t know to what extend his investigative efforts are driven by a search for the truth or by his past as a veteran. Secondly, as in The Parallax View and Three Days of The Condor, the party under investigation is also the one that holds the strings, both when it comes to power and to what is taken to be true within the community.
The interplay of these two factors makes it such that the audience does not really have any clear point of reference as to what is really true, a distinctive mark of any good noir and neo-noir film. The depiction of Santa Barbara coincides with Inherent Vice’s setting of Gordita Beach. This aspect, as well as Jeff Bridges’ generally laid-back acting style, is one more reason why this movie generates a mellow viewing experience similar to The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice.
Author Bio: J. Meers is a 24-year-old freelance writer with a master in philosophy. Besides doing research in metaphysics and epistemology, he is also interested in aesthetics and the arts of cinema and music. His favorite directors and cinematographers include Robby Müller, Yasujirō Ozu, Jean-Pierre Melville, Sven Nykvist and Wim Wenders.