Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation, is still brilliant today, and it’s a classic example of Coppola’s enigmatic directing. Although the film was in development as early as 1966, Coppola was waiting for The Godfather to become a success (which it was, wildly so) before working on this film. The Conversationwent on to win the 1974 Palme d’or, the highest prize at The Cannes Film Festival, and it has received many other nominations and awards.
Despite the success of The Conversation, the frustrating twist is that lead actor Gene Hackman did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Hackman was a big reason that The Conversation was, and remains, a masterpiece, and it’s still shocking today that he did not get at least a nomination.
I experienced The Conversation in 35 MM projection at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Seeing it in an old school cinema palace like the Music Box really helped make it an unforgettable experience. I felt like I was back in the 1970s experiencing it as a new release. The organ player before the film made it truly nostalgic for cinema aficionados like myself.
To recap the plot, The Conversation takes place in San Francisco. Hackman is Harry Caul, an introverted surveillance expert who is in an assignment to record a couple, and his surveillance reveals that his client may be the source of danger to the couple. Harrison Ford plays Harry’s boss, Martin Stett, and Harry’s assistant, Stan, is played by John Cazale. The recordings become the source of much tension between the three of them, and the plot takes a turn when it becomes apparent that it the couple are not the target of the danger.
I love a lot of things about The Conversation, including the old recording devices with their tapes and bulky consoles. The sound quality, or lack thereof, becomes an issue at times and adds an air of tension to the film. Coppola of course makes the most of this tension, and his directing keeps us on our toes as to whose side we should be on. And again, Gene Hackman is superb. Four stars for the revisited experience with The Conversation.