4.7 8
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield


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Made between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), and in part an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's art-movie classic Blow-Up (1966), The Conversation was a return to small-scale art films for Francis Ford Coppola. Sound surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is hired to track a young couple (Cindy Williams and…  See more details below


Made between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), and in part an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's art-movie classic Blow-Up (1966), The Conversation was a return to small-scale art films for Francis Ford Coppola. Sound surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is hired to track a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), taping their conversation as they walk through San Francisco's crowded Union Square. Knowing full well how technology can invade privacy, Harry obsessively keeps to himself, separating business from his personal life, even refusing to discuss what he does or where he lives with his girlfriend, Amy (Teri Garr). Harry's work starts to trouble him, however, as he comes to believe that the conversation he pieced together reveals a plot by the mysterious corporate "Director" who hired him to murder the couple. After he allows himself to be seduced by a call girl, who then steals the tapes, Harry is all the more convinced that a killing will occur, and he can no longer separate his job from his conscience. Coppola, cinematographer Bill Butler, and Oscar-nominated sound editor Walter Murch convey the narrative through Harry's aural and visual experience, beginning with the slow opening zoom of Union Square accompanied by the alternately muddled and clear sound of the couple's conversation caught by Harry's microphones. The Godfather Part II and The Conversation earned Coppola a rare pair of Oscar nominations for Best Picture, as well as two nominations for Best Screenplay (The Godfather Part II won both). Praised by critics, The Conversation was not a popular hit, but it has since come to be seen as one of the artistic high points of the decade, as well as of Coppola's career. Its atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, combined with its obsessive loner antihero, made it prototypical of the darker "American art movies" of the early '70s, as its audiotape storyline also made it seem eerily appropriate for the era of the Watergate scandal.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Though it was commercially lost in the shuffle between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, The Conversation ranks among the finest films of Francis Ford Coppola's career. Drawn on a more intimate canvas than the Godfather epics or Apocalypse Now, it's a compelling and expertly constructed chamber piece about the nature of privacy and the troubling gray area between facts and truth; it was also remarkably prescient, coming out just as the Watergate scandal was making surveillance a major issue in the American consciousness. Gene Hackman delivers a typically expert performance as Harry Caul, who makes his living finding out what others are doing. As a consequence, Caul has become an obsessively private man haunted by guilt and incapable of trusting anyone, and Hackman and Coppola mold him into an indelible character whose moral and professional sides are at constant war. Coppola also used his soundtrack with uncommon intelligence; in a decade in which the attention paid to film sound would increase by leaps and bounds, The Conversation was a breakthrough in using its soundtrack not just to convey dialogue and music but to deepen the story, as well as providing the ultimate screen example of the adage, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." The Conversation is a subtle film that best reveals its details through repeat viewings, though even on a first viewing it's a brilliant cautionary tale whose message has become all the more potent with the passage of time and the further rise of technology.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Lions Gate
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound, Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Audio commentary with Francis Ford Coppola; Audio Commentary with Editor Walter Murch; ; Never-Before-Seen Interview with Francis Ford Coppola and Composer David Shire; ; Never-Before-Seen Archival Screen tests; Never-Before-Heard Archival audio of Francis Ford Coppola dictating the original script; Never-Before-Seen Discussion with Francis Ford Coppola about his early film exercise, "No Cigar"; ; ; "Close-up on The Conversation" featurette; ; Archival on-set interview with Gene Hackman

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Gene Hackman Harry Caul
John Cazale Stanley
Allen Garfield William P. "Bernie" Moran
Frederic Forrest Mark
Cindy Williams Ann
Teri Garr Amy
Harrison Ford Martin Stett
Timothy Carey Actor
Elizabeth MacRae Meredith
Mark Wheeler Receptionist
Robert Shields The Mime
Phoebe Alexander Lurleen
Robert Duvall The Director
Michael Higgins Paul

Technical Credits
Francis Ford Coppola Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Bill Butler Cinematographer
Richard Chew Editor
Doug von Koss Set Decoration/Design
Walter Murch Editor,Sound/Sound Designer
Chuck Myers Asst. Director
Clark Paylow Production Manager
Art Rochester Sound/Sound Designer
Aggie Guerard Rodgers Costumes/Costume Designer
Fred Roos Co-producer
David Shire Score Composer
Jennifer Shull Casting
Dean Tavoularis Production Designer

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The Conversation 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The dreadfully real technology revealed during the Watergate investigations lent a special relevance to Francis Ford Coppola's film about wiretapping. However, the film's astonishingly prophetic script was written five years before the film was made and the Watergate scandal broke. It is Coppola's most successfully realized work to date. In "The Conversation", Coppola combines the technological monsters we know are real with those we suspect to be real and focuses finally and most ruthlessly on one person no one thinks much about: the man doing the listening. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), is a security specialist who performs wiretapping and eavesdropping operations for powerful clients. A requirement of the job is a profound personal detachment. A professional, he is a solitary soul he relates most actively to the world via the technology at his disposal. Even his hobby, playing the saxophone along with jazz records, relies on his interaction with impersonal strangers. He evinces a neurotic fear of precisely what he does to others he is absolutely phobic about his privacy, keeps an unlisted phone number and shuns all social contact, the exception being his girlfriend (Teri Garr). Throughout the film, regardless of the weather, he wears a transparent raincoat, as if to sanitize himself from his environment. At confession, he admits to stealing newspapers. Only a virtuoso performance by Gene Hackman incorporates these striking contradictions within a plausible character Harry's career forces him to maintain an elaborate and at times ridiculous system of repressed instincts, rather like Maupassant, who disliked the Eiffel Tower so much that he ate lunch in its observation deck every day so he wouldn't have to look at it. As a thriller plain and simple, the film is without peer. It has a slow and careful pace at first that accelerates to moments of indescribable fright. There is a bathroom scene that will make you afraid ever to use indoor plumbing again and a twist ending so completely surprising and convincing as to change the meaning of every scene in the film and make the denouement of "Psycho" seem predictable in comparison. Coppola was not the first filmmaker to present a nightmare world of humans without humanity or human rights. But his nightmare is the most convincing because it is the world in which we live. [filmfactsman]
ChandlerSwain More than 1 year ago
"The Conversation" was one of two films Francis Ford Coppola released in 1974, the other being the inferior "The Godfather, Part 2". In this film, blatantly inspired by Antonioni's "Blow-Up", Coppola traces a narrative within the mind of a single human being. Gene Hackman brilliantly portrays the recessive Harry Caul, a master surveillance expert who is himself eaten up by the prospect of his own loss of privacy. Privacy means security, even the very seed of survival, to Caul; especially in his experience,as his prowling has led to the death of several people. The film opens with an impressive longshot of a public square, seemingly insignificant, but as the camera very slowly zooms in we begin to notice individuals who soon become the subject of the drama. We are in the midst of another of Caul's ingenious surveillance operations, the target being the wife of a shadowy figure only referred to as "The Director" and the man she is having a conversation with: the conversation of the title and the subject of this absorbing film. Just who are these people, and what are they talking about? Coppola and his editor/sound designer Walter Murch compose several elaborate sequences of aural detection, brimming with discovery that unlock the mysteries of these questions, until Caul begins to realize the deadly implications of his discovery. Or so he thinks. The film is the study of an internal man; it is practically cinema of the first-person. We only know what Caul knows. We only see and hear what he does, and so even the unexplained threads of the film, especially the mystery of the final scene puzzle us because they do him. This is a daring approach for what is essentially a thriller. The pace is slow, but only because it reflects the plodding, paranoid character of it's protagonist; a character ironically named as he often is seen in a transparent rain garment that resembles a protective caul. The casting is uniformly outstanding, with exceptional work turned in by the late, great John Cazale. But there are problems with the film. Despite the fact we only know what Caul knows, his motivations don't always follow a logical progression, and a series of amateurish blunders leading to the theft of the prized recorded tapes is almost unfathomable by a man who lives his life in extreme caution. Also, a precognitive dream he has of a savage act of violence mirrors exactly one that occurs: are we to belive he is psychic? Or is this just Coppola's way of jazzing up the story? But most jarring is the great narrative twist that occurs when the mystery is solved in the taped conversation; a switcheroo only able to occur as Coppola blatantly changes the inflection, and therefore the meaning, of a key word in the conversation- one that we've heard a dozen times in the film and so can't help but notice the obvious cheat. Still. Coppola saves his greatest mystery for the last scene, a torturous riddle that sends Caul and the audience into a shattered acknowledgement that no one is private (safe). Narrative gaffes aside, this is one of the landmarks of a remarkable year (1974) that saw the release of many impressive paranoid studies of America ("Man On a Swing", "The Parallax View", "Chinatown"). The fine musical score by David Shire is deceptively simple in it's elegance. The DVD is spectacular both is picture and (especially) sound. There are several extras, all of them illuminating.
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