Making all the Right Moves


It wasn’t until I saw Arthur Penn’s 1975 neo-noir Night Moves again the other evening that I realised the large debt owed to it by my fifth Resnick novel, Wasted Years. Not for the main plot line, which involves Resnick and a former blues singer, Ruth Strange, but for those sections of the book which deal with the splintering of Resnick’s relationship with his wife, Elaine.

In the movie, private detective Harry Moseby, played by Gene Hackman with a resigned and barely suppressed anger, discovers that his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is having an affair [he goes to pick her up at the  cinema where she’s been seeing a Rohmer movie – grounds for separation right there? – and finds her amorously engaged with an arty type who walks with the aid of a stick] and deals with it as most men tend to do – badly. Instead of confronting her, his initial response is to hide away at the top of the house brooding over a ball game he’s watching on a flickering black and white TV, effectively breaking off all conversation between them; his second is to confront the man in his home. It is this that brings about the climactic row between them, Harry releasing his violence by smashing a glass into the sink and switching on the disposal.


Alan Sharp’s fine script is at its best in these scenes. “Who’s winning?” Ellen asks when she interrupts Harry’s solitary viewing. “Nobody,” comes the answer. “One side’s just losing slower than the other.” And there’s Harry’s now famous retort when Ellen asks him if he wants to accompany her to the Rohmer movie – “I saw a Rohmer film once, it was sort of like watching paint dry.”

[In the novel – with the blurb suggests came before the movie, but I suspect came later, a novelisation of sorts – it’s not a Rohmer movie that gets this dismissive treatment, but Chabrol, and a particular Chabrol movie, at that, Le Boucher – not exactly a paint-drier as I remember it.]


The sequence of events in Wasted Years is very similar to those in the movie. [Homage, we used to call it, back in the days when Lawrence, Angus and myself would ‘borrow’ sections from our favourite westerns and refashion them for the latest adventure of Hawk or Herne the Hunter.] Resnick discovers Elaine’s infidelity accidentally – he’s on his way back to the police station when he sees her leaving an empty house with a man.

He was humming one of those Parker tunes with an unpronounceable name, beating his fingers against the wheel, when he saw a woman walking out of a house a little off to the right. The house was quite substantial, thirties probably, set back from the road; the woman, wearing a blue suit, smart, turned her head to look back at the man who was now locking the front door and she was smiling. It was Elaine.

… Graceful turn of the head and slow. A smile he had seen  before. Beside the front garden shrubs, the low stone wall, a sign which read FOR SALE. The man at the front door, pocketing the keys. Volvo parked at the kerb, dark blue. It had been a long time now since he had seen that smile.

Instead of watching American football on TV, Resnick goes to watch Notts County reserves …

He stood on the County Road side, near the halfway line. Rain began to fall in swathes, darkening his coat, seeping through to his shoulders. On the pitch a bunch of youngsters and the odd gnarled professional hoofed the ball out of defence in the hopeful direction of their opponent’s goal. Tackles slid fast across the greasy turf and, with so few people in the ground, you could hear, all too clearly, the crack of bone meeting bone.

Instead of bracing the man in his house, Resnick goes to his office instead; a visit which precipitates the final exchanges between himself and Elaine …

Resnick leaned away from the door. “I should’ve thought if there was any guilt around …”
“I should have the monopoly?”
“You were the one sneaking off in her lunch hour.”
“Sneaking off?”
“Making love to another man.”
The bottle that she’d opened was close to where she was standing and she poured herself another  glass of wine. The bottle was nearly empty. “We weren’t making love, Charlie, Philip and I. What we were doing was fucking. There’s a big difference.” Slowly, she carried the glass of wine towards him. “What you and I do – used to do – that was making love. Tender, Charlie. Careful. Solicitous. What we do, myself and Philip, other people’s beds, we fuck!”
He swung his arm and she saw it coming, trying to block him and not quite succeeding, the heel of his hand catching her at the front of the left temple, alongside the eye. The glass she had been holding shattered against the floor. Elaine stumbled backwards, the worktop saving her from falling.
Resnick moved towards her, arms outstretched, apologising; instead of flinching, she lifted her face towards him, daring him to strike her again. Resnick wrenched the back door open and slammed it behind him, unable to see where he was running, half-blinded by tears of shame and anger in his eyes.

I’d completely forgotten, until I looked at the book again, that Resnick had struck her.

2.Wasted Years


Author: John Harvey


5 thoughts on “Making all the Right Moves”

  1. Oddly, especially for me as a film history instructor, I’d not seen Night Moves, but, quite coincidentally, I recorded it from the Turner Classic Movies cable channel about a month ago, and will be watching it within the next few days. Just as oddly, I’d received in the post a DVD of The Enemy Below, and, moments after I’d opened the package, I received an email notifying me that the fine actor, folk singer and raconteur Theo Bikel had died. Mr. Bikel turned in a strong character lead performance in The Enemy Below. These coincidences are part of life, but sometimes they are just a bit spooky.

  2. Jim : I hope you enjoy “Night Moves” as much as I do. Hackman’s performance is a slightly more aware, less desperate cousin of the character he plays in “The Conversation” and the acting is pretty good all round, not least an early (first?) performance from Melanie Griffith. I’m sure the film history instructor in you will relish the use of glass and mirrors throughout!

  3. Have always loved “Night Moves” although have I’ve not seen it for many years. You’re bang on with your comments re Hackman’s performance both in this and “The Conversation”. My “Time Out” tome reckons it’s a key film of the 70s opining that “Sharp’s elusive, fragmented script precisely catches the post-Watergate mood, while Penn’s direction brilliantly parallels the interior/exterior investigation”. Couldn’t agree more. Whither Susan Clark? It’s undoubtedly her finest hour but I don’t recall seeing her in anything subsequently.

    Oh and “Le Boucher” certainly was no drying paint exercise – could anything starring Stephane Audran be termed such ?

  4. Whither Jennifer Warren, very good as Paula, as well? She did direct at least one film and there was some tv, but Alan Sharp’s book is dedicated to “Paula, wherever she may be found.”

  5. I did view Night Moves this evening (as a film instructor, I appreciate my DVR as an extremely useful gadget) and quite enjoyed the notion of the private rather completely at the mercy of events even as he attempts to shape them. A detecive without at least much of a clue, Harry’s plight reminds me just a bit of all those characters in the Coens’ Blood Simple who, as economists always say, are maximizing their own utility without having a notion that the other characters are doing the same thing, i.e., each is maximizing his own without a notion of the others’ motivations and actions.

    I’m a long-time Chandler reader and collector (especially of the related writings of critics and others around the edges, e.g., Perlman’s Farewell My Lovely Appetizer, the several biographies, copies of Chandler’s letters, etc), and I think Arthur Penn’s version of 70s’ Los Angeles was in its non-satirical way much better than Altman’s The Long Goodbye, which I’d have enjoyed seeing made years ago with, say, Jayson Robards, Jr. as Marlowe (an Edward Dmytryk could probably create a tougher Robards), Peter O’Toole as Terry Lennox and perhaps Brian Keith as Wade; however, one of my friends remains, after all these years, a booster of Bill Holden as Marlowe.

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