You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Alan Sharp, 79, critically acclaimed screenwriter

NEW YORK — Alan Sharp, a screenwriter whose brand of dark, lyrical, and densely plotted work, including the screenplay for Arthur Penn’s “Night Moves,” made him a critically admired if largely unknown figure in Hollywood, died Feb. 8 in Los Angeles. He was 79.

The cause was cancer, said his daughter Louise Sharp.

Continue reading below

Mr. Sharp, who was born in Scotland, specialized in scripts that turned the tables on movie conventions. In the 1970s, his best-known narratives created and then disassembled audience expectations about all the usual Hollywood verities, especially the triumph of justice, love, and friendship.

In “The Hired Hand” (1971), starring and directed by Peter Fonda in his first film after “Easy Rider,” Mr. Sharp constructed what film critic J. Hoberman called a hippie Western, in which true love is put through its paces only to stumble at the finish line. For director Robert Aldrich’s “Ulzana’s Raid” (1972), starring Burt Lancaster, Mr. Sharp’s descriptions of torture and killing are so overwhelming that the line between good guys and bad guys seems irrelevant.

In “Night Moves” (1975) Gene Hackman plays a private eye who cannot figure out the whodunit of his own crumbling marriage. An often-quoted exchange from the film encapsulated Mr. Sharp’s dark vision and caustic wit.

A man is watching a football game on television, and his wife asks him who is winning.

“Nobody,” he replies. “One side’s just losing more slowly than the other.”

Alan Sharp was born in Alyth, Scotland, to a single mother. He was adopted at 6 weeks by Margaret and Joseph Sharp, who belonged to a local Salvation Army church. His adoptive father was a dockworker.

Mr. Sharp left school at 14 and began a series of jobs, which he described in 2004:

“Apprentice in local shipyards; worked as assistant to a private detective, English teacher in Germany, construction laborer, dishwasher, night switchboard operator for burglar alarm firm, and a packer for a carpet company; worked for IBM; bummed around. Writer. Military service: British National Service, 1952-54.”

He began his writing career as a novelist, publishing the first two novels of a planned trilogy — “A Green Tree in Gedde” (1965), which was initially banned in Scotland for its sexual content, and “The Wind Shifts” (1968) — before settling in Hollywood to write for the movies. His first five scripts were filmed in quick succession: the thriller “The Last Run,” with George C. Scott; “The Hired Hand”; “Ulzana’s Raid”; “Billy Two Hats,” another Western, with Gregory Peck; and “Night Moves.” He also wrote screenplays for “The Osterman Weekend” (1983), an adaptation of a Robert Ludlum novel, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah; “Little Treasure” (1985), starring Margot Kidder, which Mr. Sharp also directed; and the 1995 film “Rob Roy,” a historical adventure starring Liam Neeson.

Mr. Sharp was married four times, once to novelist Beryl Bainbridge. Besides his daughter Louise, he leaves his wife, Harriet Sharp; two sons; three other daughters; two stepsons; and 14 grandchildren.

Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.