A paranoid and personally-secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered.
Gene Hackman ... Harry Caul
John Cazale ... Stan
Allen Garfield ... William P. 'Bernie' Moran
Frederic Forrest ... Mark
Cindy Williams ... Ann
Michael Higgins ... Paul
Elizabeth MacRae ... Meredith
Teri Garr ... Amy Fredericks
Harrison Ford ... Martin Stett
Mark Wheeler ... Receptionist
Robert Shields ... The Mime
Phoebe Alexander ... Lurleen
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Runtime: 113 mins
Codecs: XVid / AC3
'The Conversation' sadly doesn't get mentioned as much as Coppola's other (more flamboyant) seventies movies ('The Godfather' parts one and two, 'Apocalypse Now'), even though it as good as, if not better than the aforementioned. In fact if someone argued that this was his greatest achievement as a director, I would be hard pressed to disagree.
'The Conversation' bears many similarities to Antonioni's 'Blowup', another superb movie that requires multiple viewings to really appreciate. Both movies are very much of their time, and therefore 'The Conversation' is fuelled by the keywords of the decade it was made in - paranoia and deceit. The other main difference between the two movies it that 'The Conversation' is not only a head trip but also a taut and suspenseful thriller. Post Simpson/Bruckheimer audiences may not have the attention spans to appreciate it, but that is their failing, not this movie's.
Gene Hackman gives one of the finest performances of his career here as the complex and troubled surveillance expert Harry Caul, one that is possibly rivaled only by his too little seen gem 'Scarecrow'. And the supporting cast is first rate, and includes the late John Cazale, a favourite of Coppola's, Harrison Ford, Frederick Forrest, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, and (an uncredited) Robert Duvall. Last but not least a superb turn from the underrated Allen Garfield, an actor who has appeared in many odd movies, from 'Get To Know Your Rabbit' to 'Destiny Turns On The Radio'. He is dynamite here, in a role originally intended for the legendary Timothy Carey, as a pushy rival bugging expert.
'The Conversation' is hypnotic, multi-layered and haunting. See it whatever you do.
"The Conversation" is a really great movie. I was quite surprised when I saw it. Not at how good it was, but how few people have seen it or heard of it. This is a classic suspense thriller, and a terrifying psychological horror film! From the opening credits, I, like the characters, was unsure of where I was going, or what the opening conversation (which is what the entire film is built around) might lead to. It seemed so unusually powerful, despite its masterfully simplistic execution. There is no overkill or excess in this film, nor is it under written or underplayed. It's just perfect! And I was even more surprised at how little was shown, and how much it could engross or frighten the hell out of me! My heart was racing, even though there was little action! This is the kind of film Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to direct. The direction went to another master instead, Francis Ford Coppola. I felt ahead of the movie at its opening credits. But then, it blasted me and got miles ahead of me. It is an attack on our psyche and our fear, and it's amazing how, like the film itself, the conversation in the film that seemed so small and irrational could lead to something as big as it did!
Enigmatic, frustrating, confusing, intelligent and overall extremely brilliant work by writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (Oscar-nominated for his screenplay) has surveillance expert Gene Hackman recording a conversation between Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest. It immediately appears that the duo are having an affair behind Williams' very wealthy husband's (a cameo by Robert Duvall) back. However nothing is quite as cut and dry as it seems. Hackman, a devout Catholic, has a bout of conscience as he worries that Duvall might have deviant plans for his wife and her apparent lover. Apparently Hackman's work had meant the lives of some he had spied on many years earlier in New York and he is shown as a quiet man who has some loud personal demons within his soul. The suspense builds when Hackman is followed by Duvall's shady employee (Harrison Ford) and eventually the heat rises to a boil as all the very loose ends are tied together in a wickedly twisted final act. "The Conversation" was Coppola's other film from 1974 (remember Best Picture Oscar winner "The Godfather, Part II"?). With this movie, Coppola created arguably the two best films of that dominant cinematic campaign (of course Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" would have something to say about that). Hackman delivers a deceptively difficult and dark performance as a man who seems to be self-destructing slowly on the inside out. By the end "The Conversation" is a thought-provoking product that will chill you to the bone with its cold elements.
* Reportedly Gene Hackman's favorite of his movies.
* Cameo: [Robert Duvall] the director who hires Harry Caul.
* Opening aerial shot taken from atop what was then the City of Paris department store. Today (2000) it's a Neiman-Marcus.
* The Jack Tarr Hotel, site of the grisly murder scene in room 773, is today (2000) the Cathedral Hill Hotel located on Van Ness Avenue at Geary.
* Gene Hackman's character was to have been named Harry Call, but a typing error led to his being name Harry Caul and the name stuck.
* 'Robert Shields' , who plays the mime in the Union Square sequences, actually was a street mime in Union Square at the time.
* The blue Mercedes limousine that Cindy Williams is sitting in near the end of the film was won by Francis Ford Coppola on a bet with Paramount Pictures. Coppola had complained about the station wagon he shared with five other passengers during the filming of The Godfather (1972) and studio execs told him if Godfather grossed a certain amount they would spring for a new car. After Godfather was a huge hit, Coppola and George Lucas went to a dealer and picked out the Mercedes, telling the salesman to bill Paramount.
* Gene Hackman later plays an expert in surveillance in Enemy of the State (1998)
* Timothy Carey was originally cast as Bernie Moran. Production was shut down until he was replaced with Allen Garfield.
* Coppola had written the outline in 1966 but couldn't get financing until The Godfather (1972) became a success.
* Due to creative differences on this shoot, veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler was replaced by DP Bill Butler
* In the original script, Harry Caul was the owner of the building in which he lived. There was a deleted scene where he had a meeting with the other tenants. One of the people there was Mrs. Evangelista. Now, we only know of her character when Caul speaks to her on the phone after she leaves him a birthday present.
* The part of Martin Stett, played by Harrison Ford, was originally intended by Francis Ford Coppola to be a minor cameo but Ford's performance convinced Coppola to make the character an integral part of the movie.
* Originally envisioned as a horror movie with Marlon Brando.
* The meaning of Harry's last name, Caul, is a fetal membrane sometimes present at birth. This ties in strongly with both Harry's transparent rain jacket, which he wears for the majority of the film, and also the fact that Harry is occasionally viewed through a translucent sheet of plastic when threatened, such as by his rival during the party scene.
* Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite of his movies.
* Harry Caul tells Amy that he is 42. The birthday card with the bottle of wine says Happy 44th Birthday. Gene Hackman was 44 when the movie came out.
* Francis Ford Coppola cited his conversation with fellow director Irvin Kershner about surveillance as the basis and theme of the film.
* David Shire's original music was composed prior to production and played for the actors prior to their scenes to get them into the proper moods.
* Gene Hackman learned to play the saxophone especially for the film.
* As Harry refines and re-refines the recording, he interprets what he hears in different ways. In fact, the dialog was recorded multiple times with different readings to get this effect.
# SPOILER: Extra scenes needed to complete the movie, including the one where Hackman discovers that the tape is gone, were filmed on the set of Chinatown (1974).