100 minutes| U.S.A.| 1975| Colour| 35mm

‘Take a swing at me, the way Sam Spade would!’ Alas, Gene Hackman’s private-eye is no Sam Spade, and this confrontation with his wife’s lover will end inconclusively, anticipating an investigation that will only lead him into further mysteries, some relating to his own character. The plot, precipitated by the disappearance of a wayward teenager, is essentially the pretext for a deconstruction of the private-eye movie, where the detective does not know all the answers, and, like the champion chess player with whom he is obsessed, will miss the key moves that could bring things to a successful conclusion. Brilliantly scripted by Alan Sharp, the film’s allusions to American myths and movies form an essential backdrop to a searing lament for lost idealism in post-Kennedy America. No director captured that mood or period more eloquently or excitingly than Arthur Penn. Ingmar Bergman called him ‘one of the greatest directors in the world,’ and this is his greatest film. (Notes by Neil Sinyard).

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