The Conversation (1974)

PG | 113 mins | Drama | 7 April 1974

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HISTORY

According to an Apr 1974 New Yorker article, Francis Ford Coppola began the screenplay for The Conversation in 1966, finishing it in 1970. A Jun 1969 DV article stated that he originally wanted Marlon Brando to star. Modern sources have pointed out that "Harry Caul" was named after "Harry Haller," the main character in Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf , who, like Harry, was a recluse. Coppola produced the film for The Director's Company, which he had formed along with fellow directors Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin. The picture was shot in San Francisco, CA, on location in Union Square and in Coppola's newly formed American Zoetrope Studio, marking the director as one of the first major American filmmakers of his generation to open a studio outside Los Angeles.
       Haskell Wexler was originally hired as director of photography, but within weeks, according to news items, friction between Wexler and Coppola caused the director to replace him with Bill Butler. After filming was completed, prior commitments forced Coppola to leave the footage in the hands of Walter Murch, who oversaw the complex editing procedure. A modern source quotes Coppola as referring to Murch as "an author" of the film, because of the editor's role in crafting the final story.
       A Nov 1972 DV news item adds Timothy Carey and Raymond Bieri to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although a Jan 1973 HR item adds Abe Vigoda to the cast, he does not appear in the final film. Modern sources include the following members to the ... More Less

According to an Apr 1974 New Yorker article, Francis Ford Coppola began the screenplay for The Conversation in 1966, finishing it in 1970. A Jun 1969 DV article stated that he originally wanted Marlon Brando to star. Modern sources have pointed out that "Harry Caul" was named after "Harry Haller," the main character in Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf , who, like Harry, was a recluse. Coppola produced the film for The Director's Company, which he had formed along with fellow directors Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin. The picture was shot in San Francisco, CA, on location in Union Square and in Coppola's newly formed American Zoetrope Studio, marking the director as one of the first major American filmmakers of his generation to open a studio outside Los Angeles.
       Haskell Wexler was originally hired as director of photography, but within weeks, according to news items, friction between Wexler and Coppola caused the director to replace him with Bill Butler. After filming was completed, prior commitments forced Coppola to leave the footage in the hands of Walter Murch, who oversaw the complex editing procedure. A modern source quotes Coppola as referring to Murch as "an author" of the film, because of the editor's role in crafting the final story.
       A Nov 1972 DV news item adds Timothy Carey and Raymond Bieri to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although a Jan 1973 HR item adds Abe Vigoda to the cast, he does not appear in the final film. Modern sources include the following members to the crew: Prod asst Lawrence Bridges; Saxophone player for Gene Hackman Justin Gordon. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Sound (Murch and Art Rochester) and Best Original Screenplay (Coppola). Coppola's other 1974 rlease, The Godfather Part II , also was nominted for Best Picture, making him only the second director in history to have two films nominated in the category within the same year. In addition, it won the Palme D'Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, and was awarded the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards from the National Board of Review.
       According to a Dec 1973 Var article, KGO-TV news cameraman Harold A. "Buck" Joseph sued Coppola, Paramount and American Zoetrope for $30,000. He alleged that, upon trying to film the production after locals complained about excessive smoke used in one scene, he was attacked by Coppola and two other men. The final disposition of the suit is undetermined.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1969
---
Daily Variety
20 Mar 1969
---
Daily Variety
17 Jun 1969
---
Daily Variety
29 Nov 1972
---
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1972
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 1972
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1973
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 1973
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1974
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Apr 1974
p. 89.
New York Times
12 May 1974
p. 13.
New Yorker
3 Apr 1974
---
Variety
29 Jan 1973
---
Variety
26 Dec 1973
---
Variety
3 Apr 1974
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Co-prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd mont and re-rec
Prod rec
Prod rec
Prod rec
PRODUCTION MISC
Gaffer
Gaffer
Key grip
Scr supv
Prod mgr
Loc coordinator
Casting
Prod secy
Tech adv
Tech adv
Admin asst
Admin asst
Admin asst
SOURCES
SONGS
"When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along," music and lyrics by Harry Woods.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
7 April 1974
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 7 April 1974
Production Date:
27 November 1972--late February 1973 at American Zoetrope Studios in San Francisco
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
6 April 1974
Copyright Number:
LP43355
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
113
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In San Francisco, renowned surveillance expert Harry Caul and his recording engineers, Stan and Paul, tape the conversation of Mark and Ann as they walk through busy Union Square. Their circuitous route and the noisy public space complicate the assignment, and Harry must use three simultaneous tapes, each of which captures only a portion of the discussion. Harry reacts to Stan and Paul's curiosity about the purpose of the assignment by reminding them to simply get the job done. He returns to his sparse, impersonal apartment and is upset to discover that his landlady has left a gift for his birthday, thus obtaining personal information and bypassing his elaborate alarm system. He then spends the evening alone playing his saxophone. The next day, in his warehouse office, Harry synchronizes the three tapes in order to isolate Mark and Ann's voices from the surrounding sounds, and captures almost all of the innocuous-sounding conversation. At night, he visits his girl friend, Amy Fredericks, in the apartment he keeps for her. Although she is initially excited to see him, when he once again refuses to reveal any personal information, she tells him that she has seen him spying on her, and will no longer wait for him to visit her. The next morning, Harry brings the tape to Mr. C, the high-level businessman who has commissioned the recording. When Mr. C's assistant, Martin Stet, insists on taking the tape himself, a mistrustful Harry grabs it away and ignores Stet's warning not to get involved. After recognizing both Mark and Ann in the building's elevator, Harry returns to his office to listen to ... +


In San Francisco, renowned surveillance expert Harry Caul and his recording engineers, Stan and Paul, tape the conversation of Mark and Ann as they walk through busy Union Square. Their circuitous route and the noisy public space complicate the assignment, and Harry must use three simultaneous tapes, each of which captures only a portion of the discussion. Harry reacts to Stan and Paul's curiosity about the purpose of the assignment by reminding them to simply get the job done. He returns to his sparse, impersonal apartment and is upset to discover that his landlady has left a gift for his birthday, thus obtaining personal information and bypassing his elaborate alarm system. He then spends the evening alone playing his saxophone. The next day, in his warehouse office, Harry synchronizes the three tapes in order to isolate Mark and Ann's voices from the surrounding sounds, and captures almost all of the innocuous-sounding conversation. At night, he visits his girl friend, Amy Fredericks, in the apartment he keeps for her. Although she is initially excited to see him, when he once again refuses to reveal any personal information, she tells him that she has seen him spying on her, and will no longer wait for him to visit her. The next morning, Harry brings the tape to Mr. C, the high-level businessman who has commissioned the recording. When Mr. C's assistant, Martin Stet, insists on taking the tape himself, a mistrustful Harry grabs it away and ignores Stet's warning not to get involved. After recognizing both Mark and Ann in the building's elevator, Harry returns to his office to listen to the tape again. Noticing an inaudible whisper, he uses specialized equipment to discern the words "He'd kill us if he got the chance." Stan once again asks for information about the assignment, and when an edgy Harry barks at him to keep his work impersonal, Stan stalks out. Later, Harry visits his church and confesses to a priest his fear that the tape will be used to hurt Mark and Ann. At a surveillance conference held the next day, Paul introduces Harry to business rival William P. "Bernie" Moran, for whom Stan is now working. Harry is terrified to see Stet following him, but later Stet reveals that he only wants to set up another meeting with Mr. C. After the conference, Harry invites Paul, Stan, Bernie and two women back to his office to drink. There, Bernie jealously pushes Harry to reveal how he accomplished his most famous job, a Washington, D.C. welfare scandal. When one of the women, Meredith, flirts with Harry and urges him to confide in her, he finally admits that he misses Amy. Later, Bernie tells the group how the welfare scandal resulted in the deaths of three people, and then, gloating, takes out a tape he has secretly made of Harry's conversation with Meredith. Harry explodes in anger and throws everyone out, but Meredith insists on staying. While he obsessively replays the tape, worried that innocent people will be hurt again, Meredith seduces him. Later, while sleeping, he dreams that he is revealing intimate details about his childhood to Ann, and when he awakens, Meredith and the tape are gone. Back at Harry's apartment, Stet calls on Harry's unlisted phone to warn him that he is being watched and should come to Mr. C's office for payment. There, Harry realizes that Ann is Mr. C's wife. Afraid of what Mr. C. will do to Ann, Harry remembers Mark's taped comment about an appointment at a hotel that afternoon, and rents the room next to theirs. Soon, he hears an argument between Mr. C. and Ann and then sees a bloody handprint on the adjoining balcony window. Horrified, he tries to escape the noise of the argument by turning up the television and burying himself under the bedcovers. Hours later, he rises and breaks into their room. Everything appears perfectly clean until he flushes the toilet, which overflows, flooding the room with blood. Harry races to Mr. C's office where reporters are asking Ann about her inheritance now that Mr. C. has died, supposedly in a car crash. Just as Harry recalls the comment "He'd kill us if he got the chance" and realizes that Mark and Ann were not in danger, but rather planning a murder, Stet notes his presence. When Harry returns to his apartment, Stet calls to warn him that he is being watched. Undone by the thought of his secured home being breached, Harry searches for bugging devices, shredding the curtains, disconnecting the wiring and pulling up the floorboards until his apartment is destroyed. Finally, Harry is left alone, playing his saxophone amid the wreckage. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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