In between the first two "Godfather" films came the precious gem "The Conversation," which once again displayed Francis Ford Coppola (left) at his directorial pinnacle -- synthesizing influences, reconciling conflicts and shrewdly delegating responsibility until he created a masterpiece. 

I also consider it the peak of paranoid thrillers. I like AMC's new throwback series "Rubicon," but "The Conversation," unlike that show, maintains momentum and suspense even when it's being ruminative. 

It was fellow filmmaker Irvin Kershner ("The Empire Strikes Back") who nudged Coppola to check out the world of electronic eavesdropping. Under the influence of Antonioni's "Blow Up" (and Kurosawa's "Rashomon"), that hint grew into a tour de force of suggestive filmmaking about a hermetic, guilt-wracked bugging master named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) who believes he hears intimations of murder on surveillance tapes.

Once more, Coppola found himself and his production designer (Dean Tavoularis) at loggerheads with a renowned cinematographer (Haskell Wexler) during filming; this time, he fired Wexler and continued with Bill Butler, the veteran of Copplola's "The Rain People."

More important, he entrusted the working out of the intricate audio clues (and ultimately the clinching of the plot) to sound wizard Walter Murch, who for the first time was also made supervising editor. When the film premiered, the technological tricks and sleek corporate backdrop evoked Watergate. Thanks to Murch's uncanny instincts and Hackman's uniquely clammy, subtle performance, the movie captures a more elusive and universal fear -- losing the power to respond, emotionally and morally, to the evidence of one's senses.

What do you think of recent attempts to revive the questing spirit of '70s suspense films? Which are you hankering to see again? "The Parallax View?" "Three Days of the Condor?"

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