Harry Caul (The Conversation)

Created by Francis Ford Coppola

Gene Hackman nails the character of HARRY CAUL, a twitchy, shopworn surveillance expert hired to do a little wiretapping in The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola’s explosive and darkly disturbing Watergate-era morality tale of slimy corporate treachery and dirty secrets. You’ll feel like taking a shower after this one.

Harry may be a nationally known expert on surveillance, but he’s also got more than a few little personality problems. He’s compulsively paranoid, a recluse, distrustful of everyone. And he’s still wracked with guilt over an incident years ago, when his work indirectly led to the murder of three people. When the director of a large company hires him to record the conversations of two employees, Harry begins to fear that it will happen again.

It’s a masterful performance, by both Coppala and Hackman, as the murky plot twists and turns, and clues are offered in snatches of dialogue, whispered asides, and jagged snippets of surveillance tape, that remain ambiguous even when sonic clarity is achieved. The swirling opening scene, as Harry and his crew eavesdrop on the employees in a crowded San Francisco lunchtime scene, complete with mime artist, and static bursts of conversation, is one of the more memorable scenes from film in the entire decade–although the shot of Harry crouched by a toilet is about as heavy-handed a metaphor as you can get.

By the way, Hackman did a kinda reprise of the character in a sorta unofficial sequel, in 1998’s Enemy of the State, starring Will Smith. Hackman appears as a Brill, disillusioned and even more paranoid loner, an allegedly former NSA op now selling off his expertise to lawyers, while trying to conceal his identity from just about everyone.

Hmmm… could that identity reveal him as… Harry Caul?

FILMS

  • THE CONVERSATION Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1974, Paramount)
    113 minutes
    Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola
    Starring Gene Hackman as HARRY CAUL
    Also starring John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth MacRae, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, Mark Wheeler, Robert Shields, Phoebe Alexander

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply