Category Archives: Paul Newman

Blu-Ray Review: Harper (1966).

Directed by Jack Smight
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner
Screenplay by William Goldman,
based on the novel The Moving Target by Ross McDonald
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Film Editor: Stefan Arnsten
Music by Johnny Mandel

Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Elaine Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner

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For my money, Harper (1966) is the ultimate Paul Newman movie. He’s cool, funny and tough — and like all of his best films, his character’s got a little loser in him. He’s also got a cool car — a Porsche Speedster with the driver’s door sprayed in brown primer and the hubcaps missing. (Bet Newman had a lot of fun with that thing between takes.)

Harper is also a near-perfect 60s movie, touching on the mounting weirdness of the latter half of the decade, especially in Los Angeles, without going overboard in trying to be hip. Harper (Newman) is hired by a Lauren Bacall to locate her wealthy husband, who disappeared the night before. Harper’s investigation drags him through all sorts of stuff — kidnapping, smuggling illegal immigrants, heroin addiction, torture and crackpot religion. Along the way, he gets beaten up time and time again.

Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall): Los Angeles is the big leagues for religious nuts.
Lew Harper (Paul Newman): That’s because there’s nothing to do at night.

And it does all this while carrying on the tradition set by earlier private detective pictures like The Big Sleep (1946). You could say that this vibe was taken to the next level, a logical progression, by Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1971).

Strother Martin is terrific as the weirded out holy man. Shelley Winters is a hoot as the washed up actress involved in the whole mess. Arthur Hill is perfect as Harper’s nerdy lawyer friend. And as I’ve already stated, cool just oozes out of Newman in every frame.

I am deeply indebted to this movie for two things. First, it introduced me to Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer books. I’ve read them all, they’re great. Next, the shot underneath director Jack Smight’s credit — looking over Harper’s shoulder as he approaches Lauren Bacall’s house in his Porsche, it (and The Love Bug) helped kick off my fascination with Ferdinand Porsche and his vehicles.

Director Jack Smight and Paul Newman between takes.

Harper was shot in Technicolor and Panavision by the great Conrad Hall. The Blu-Ray from Warner Archive is near perfect, as good a presentation of original Technicolor as I’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s not the eye candy of something like Singing In The Rain (1950), but it shows us all exactly what the color process looked like in the 60s. Watch those reds — the cars, the waiters’ uniforms, etc. That’s dye transfer Tech — and it’s beautiful. Harper looks better than I’ve ever seen it look (and I’ve seen a 16mm IB Tech Scope print, the letterboxed laserdisc and the DVD). Essential.

At the same time, Warner Archive has brought the second Newman/Harper film, The Drowning Pool (1975), to Blu-Ray. It’s not as good — for one thing, the plot is really complex, but any movie featuring Murray Hamilton, Paul Koslo, Andy Robinson, Linda Haynes and Richard Jaeckel is worth seeing. This time, Harper winds up in Louisiana (the book kept Archer in California) to help out an old flame (Joanne Woodward) and people start winding up dead.

The scene with Newman and Gail Strickland trapped in a flooded hydrotherapy room, where the title comes from, is really cool.

The great Gordon Willis (The Godfather) shot this one, and it’s beautiful — and presently flawlessly on Blu-Ray by Warner Archive. Newman and all those character actors make The Drowning Pool worthwhile. Recommended.

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Filed under 1966, 1975, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Murray Hamilton, Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #153: Harper (1966) And The Drowning Pool (1975).

Directed by Jack Smight
Starring Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Janet Leigh, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Strother Martin

Warner Archive has announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of the two Lew Harper movies, Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975), that featured Paul Newman as the (renamed) Lew Archer of Ross Macdonald’s terrific series of novels.

Harper was based on Macdonald’s first Archer novel, The Moving Target (the film’s title in the UK). It’s terrific, bringing the private detective into 1960s LA with ease and putting Newman’s wiseass detective Lew Harper up against an array of cheaters, crooks, losers and weirdos. William Goldman wrote the script.

Lew Harper (Paul Newman): “Your husband keeps lousy company, Mrs. Sampson, as bad as there is in LA. And that’s as bad as there is.”

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Murray Hamilton, Gail Strickland, Melanie Griffith, Linda Haynes, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Koslo

William Goldman made an attempt to adapt another Archer novel, The Chill. Newman backed out and Sam Peckinpah was attached to it for a while. Nothing happened. In 1975, Newman and Harper were back in The Drowning Pool, with things heading to New Orleans.

Paul Newman: “It’s great fun to get up in the morning and play Harper.”

And that’s exactly what makes The Drowning Pool as good as it is. Newman as Harper is a hoot, and that’s enough. Consider that Gordon Willis shot it and it features the great character actors like Murray Hamilton, Richard Jaeckel and Paul Koslo, and you’re set.

There’s no way for me to recommend Harper enough. It’s one of my favorite movies, from one of my favorite authors, and I’d love to drive a Porsche Speedstar with the driver’s door sprayed in brown primer. And while The Drowning Pool isn’t as good, the character fits Newman so well, he’s a blast to watch. Who cares if it’s any good.

A key attraction for these Blu-Rays will be the hi-def treatment given to cinematographer Conrad Hall’s work on Harper and Willis’ on The Drowning Pool. These are choice releases, folks!

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Filed under 1966, 1975, Andy Robinson, DVD/Blu-ray News, Janet Leigh, Murray Hamilton, Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Warner Archive

RIP, Lauren Bacall.

laureen

Lauren Bacall
September 16, 1924 – August 12, 2014

Boy, we’ve lost some big ones this week. Lauren Bacall will forever be known as Humphrey Bogart’s wife and co-star, so I’m pulling her out from under Bogey’s sizable shadow—highlighting her part in one of my favorite films of the 60s, Harper (1966). Based on the first of Ross MacDonald’s wonderful Archer books, The Moving Target, it gives you Paul Newman at his coolest — and Bacall in a great part as Lew Harper’s rich client.

Ms. Bacall passed away today at 89.

Bacall was brought to Howard Hawks’ attention by his wife, Slim. He tested her, told her to scream some hoarseness into her voice and paired her with Humphrey Bogart in To Have And Have Not (1944). She built a pretty solid career from there.

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Filed under 1966, Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman