Novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp passed away last Friday at the age of seventy-nine. Though he established himself as an exciting young writer in Scotland during the 1960s, he is probably best known for scripting three of the more underrated films of the 1970s: THE HIRED HAND, ULZANA'S RAID and Arthur Penn's masterful NIGHT MOVES.
It's been years since I watched THE HIRED HAND (Peter Fonda's directorial debut), THE LAST RUN (a solid Richard Fleischer crime drama) and ULZANA'S RAID (a fine late-period western from Robert Aldrich), but NIGHT MOVES is a film I revisit often. Gene Hackman stars as Harry Moseby, a private detective whose personal life is slowly deteriorating. He's hired by an aging starlet to track down her runaway sixteen-year-old daughter (played by Melanie Griffith), but soon gets caught up in a web of personal and professional intrigue that's as disorienting for the audience as it is Harry. NIGHT MOVES is a great, twisty film noir, featuring deft direction from Penn and yet another amazing performance from Hackman. But it's Sharp's casually labyrinthine plotting that brings you back to the film again and again. Like many of the great detective yarns, it's hard (maybe impossible) to make complete, airtight sense of the narrative; it's a puzzle that might intentionally be missing a piece or two. And while the dialogue isn't endlessly quotable the way Chandler's was, Sharp did provide Eric Rohmer detractors with a brutal dismissal of the French auteur's movies. When asked by his wife if he'd like to see MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S, Hackman responds, "I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kinda like watching paint dry."
Sharp also wrote the post-apocalyptic cult classic DAMNATION ALLEY, which features The Landmaster aka the armored vehicle of my dreams. It's a goofy flick, but lots of fun if you're willing to trade off scientific accuracy for killer cockroaches - and you should.
Sharp's career peaked in the '70s, but there were a couple of notable films in the '80s and '90s. He adapted Robert Ludlum's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND for a disinterested and near-death Sam Peckinpah; the film's a bit of a mess, but Peckinpah on the ropes is still worth watching. Sharp also wrote 1995's ROB ROY, which starred Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange and a deliciously evil Tim Roth. It's a bit long, but the final duel between Neeson and Roth is enormously satisfying.
If you're looking to pay tribute to Alan Sharp this week, I heartily recommend NIGHT MOVES. It's available to rent via Amazon.
Our condolences go out to Mr. Sharp's family and friends.