Monday, September 29, 2014

Harper (1966)

I'll take The Hustler and Hud over Harper.

American actor Paul Newman made the three films between 1961 and 1966.

Hustler offers a great cast and some fine dialogue, but its tone ranges from comedy to sadistic torture, action and romance.

Los Angeles-based private investigator Lew Harper (Newman) is hired to find a missing rich man, Ralph Sampson. Harper can thank old buddy, and Sampson's lawyer, Albert (Arthur Hill) for the recommendation. Sampson fools around on his wife (Lauren Bacall) and runs with some rough company in the City of Angels. "Water seeks its own level and that should leave Ralph bathing happily somewhere in a sewer," his wife observes. Right, so the relationship between husband and wife is strained. "I only intend to outlive him," Mrs. Sampson suggests. "I don't like him drunk on the loose."

Her relationship with her stepdaughter, Miranda (Pamela Tiffin) is lousy too. Miranda is keen to chase after whatever good looking fella crosses her path. There's Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), Sampson's private pilot, for one. She is also drawn to Harper. The dysfunctional relationships continue. His wife, Susan (Janet Leigh), wants a divorce. Pronto. Miranda doesn't pay much attention to the middle-aged Albert. He pines for the young lady.

Harper figures Sampson is kidnapped. He tries to figure out who has a hand in his disappearance. Harper soon finds out there's a team of perpetrators who have a hand in his absence. Possible suspects include past-prime Hollywood starlet Fay Estabrook (Shelley Winters), now eager to dance and down as much booze as she can.

Newman doesn't strike me as the private eye type. Harper is cynical, smart and, with regards to his soon to be ex, cold. Leigh's character doesn't get to do much. Miranda is nowhere to be found near the film's end.

Movie special effects have come a long way since 1966. Those fake backdrops when Newman is driving his sports car are really, really distracting.

This is good, not great, Newman.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Frank Sinatra was going to star as Harper.

Director Jack Smight also directed Midway, Airport 1975 and four episodes of the original Twilight Zone series including The Night of the Meek.

Lauren Bacall wouldn't make another movie until Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.

Arthur Hill was the narrator of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The Drowning Pool was Harper's sequel.

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