on May 29, 2002
The music, the cars, and the size of Pamela Tiffin's bikini (not to mention her hair) are the big giveaways that this is a Sixties Flick - but one without the usual camera trickery so fashionable in those days. Instead, director Jack Smight goes for a straightforward private eye approach, although the colour and California sunshine rule out any chance of Harper becoming a latter day film noir.
Paul Newman is the title character, a seedy and cynical private eye investigating the disappearance of a singularly unloved millionaire. That Harper is seedy is amply illustrated under the opening credits. His cynicism is repeatedly demonstrated in William Goldman's terse and cutting dialogue, which Newman clearly enjoys delivering.
The plot frequently takes a back seat to the parade of offbeat characters portrayed by a cast of equally offbeat co-stars. Their performances range from very good (Lauren Bacall, Arthur Hill) to barely adequate (Robert Wagner, the aforementioned Ms Tiffin) with one (Janet Leigh) seeming to have wandered in from another film altogether.
But the film belongs to Newman, clearly in his prime and in the midst of a remarkable run of films with titles beginning with "H" (Hud, Hombre, The Hustler). If some elements of the film have dated, his performance has not. A terrific film for anyone who enjoys Newman, private eyes, or just good solid movie-making.
on October 7, 2005
Based on Ross McDonald's The Moving Target--one in a long series of crime novels featuring southern California PI Lew Archer--1966's Harper is a perfect complement to Point Blank, released the next year, in which Lee Marvin is tough first, cool second. Paul Newman as Harper is cool first, tough second. Neat trick.
While this is admittedly a little dated, it does bring back the 60s and in fact does a good job of it, too--even to the point of including a hippie pseudo-guru who's a front for smuggling in Mexicans from across the border, but who's got all the trademark paraphernalia--isolated wacky domicile, pet peregrine falcon with a fancy hood over its eyes, and, you know, flowing robes. Strother Martin does this role proud. It also has a "groovy chick" played by Pamela Tiffin who is, uh, a groovy chick--great bod, sexy face, and about as shallow as a frog pond in a drought.
All the middle aged women are great, really great: Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Janet Leigh, and the great Lauren Bacall. Each one of the ladies is perfectly cast and does a terrific job, especially Shelly Winters as a liquored up former starlet who's now washed up and who sleeps it off, a lot.
Most of the cast is just plain fun to watch and it's also fun to see Newman as Harper put on various accents and personas to weasel and wheedle and wrangle information out of various folks. Harper gets beat up, but recovers fairly quickly (hey, he's the good guy; he has to), and this is OK because it's pretty easy to tell the film itself loves film noir but is subtly funning it at the same time it honors it. Sixties southern California noir--a great mix that Ross McDonald nailed in his novels and director Jack Smight follows pretty closely in the film.
It's about Harper trying to find the missing husband of wealthy wife Elaine Sampson (Bacall) and tracking the trail(s) that various people leave (or that Harper himself sniffs out) to do so. This is a standard noir/PI plot, but it's handled well here and, as noted, is really entertaining, mostly due to the terrific cast.
It would be nice if this was issued on DVD. Since there is no DVD of it, I managed to find a VCD (video compact disk) of it on another website. Worth owning, for sure.
on June 2, 2008
I recall seeing Harper on the big screen when it came out in '66, and have owned the VHS tape. The new DVD release is a joy: the incredibly cinematography looks gorgous, the award-winning soundtrack pops, and the commentary from William Goldman adds new insights to this unappreciated classic.
Harper is a classic, very funny, character-driven private eye yarn with a great cast set against the hopped-up world of mid 1960's LA. Sure, maybe a few things are dated but this film stands up very well after more than 40 years. The truths of Harper (people are crazier than bedbugs, they lie, surface appearances deceive, but once in awhile honor prevails) remain valid. More important, this film is "a gas" (in 60's parlance) to watch. The only thing missing from this package is a CD with Johnny Mandel's complete score (I know this is out on vinyl but haven't tracked down the CD -- yet).
on January 21, 2000
Paul Newman plays the title role of the world-weary detective in an updated (1966) version of a 1940's detective story. This is much more, however, than Newman trying to fill in for Humphrey Bogart. The movie intrigues the viewer from the start. Harper's personal life is a shambles, and his wife wants a divorce. Harper's professional life isn't any better, and money making cases are rare. At one point early in the film, Harper explains why he keeps at it and doesn't give up. He recalls a time when there was a peak of short duration when everything went very well, and that made all the valleys suffered seem worth the struggle. Amidst all this brooding and angst, a job materializes via a lawyer friend. Harper rouses himself, finds a tie and one last clean shirt, and drives out of the city to a private estate of the very rich. And thus begins a bewildering tale of kidnapping, betrayal, murder, and complicated characters. Newman does well as the cynical private detective with a sarcastic sense of humor. The supporting cast is a gold mine of familiar faces: Lauren Bacall, Robert Wagner, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, etc. Nobody is what they seem. Some are evil while others are merely foolish. Either way, the people he encounters do nothing to change Harper's low opinion of the tapestry of life and its various characters. This movie will please viewers who enjoy hard as nails mystery stories that stress gritty reality rather than fiery explosions, frantic car chases, and mow-'em-down with automatic weapons shootings. Paul Newman fans will be pleased by their favorite actor in one of his best roles. Multiple viewings of the movie will increase the appreciation of plot twists and evolving characters. Definitely recommended.
on September 18, 2008
This is an interesting film. Newman plays Lew Harper who is kind of like a groovy 60's version of Phillip Marlowe; sardonic, tough, irresistable to women. While the movie is dated and sexist, it is well worth viewing, not just for Newman's charismatic performance but for some brilliant supporting roles. Janet Leigh plays his bitter estranged wife, Shelley Winters is poignant as a sloppy barroom slattern, Robert Wagner is a breezy, easy and amoral but hides an unexpected secret. Best of all is Lauren Bacall who purrs, growls and hisses in a scene stealing performance as the cynical woman who enlists Harper's services. Not a perfect movie but immensely entertaining.
on March 19, 2005
Harper may, perhaps, be the best detective film ever made. I don't mean police detective, I don't mean proper british detective, I mean honest to goodness American private eye style detective film - yes, I'll go that far. HARPER IS THE BEST DETECTIVE FILM EVER MADE. That's quite a claim when you consider there's some fairly tough competition, like Altman's The Long Goodbye, Hawks' The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, The Maltese Falcon, Laura, Kiss Me deadly, Farewell My Lovely (the second Mitchum stab at Marlowe, The Big Sleep, stinks, however)... I could go on. While some of these other films may be better FILMS (I don't know how this could be, exactly, but it's true) none of them is a better translation of the private detective persona, the feel of the America detective story, the mindset or outlook, the style. A lot of this has to do with paul Newman's acting. It also has a lot to do with the humor. The odd, contentious relationship between Harper and his ex-wife is revealing and unique. The many characters harper runs into while investigating his case are compelling and multi-layered. Harper is a perfect mix of good, solid filmmaking and a straightforward translation of the private detective genre (as practiced here in America). There's just something about this film. Even the ending is unique. I won't spoil it for you, but the last little thing that Newman does and how it reveals a certain facet of his character, his relationship with his friend, and the ambiguous moral world exposed by the detective genere is quite memorable. Add to that an excellent supporting cast, with actors such as lauren BaCall, Robert Wagner, Julie Harris, Shelly Winters and Janet Leigh, all of them portraying interesting, complex characters, and you have a real winner. You may disagree with my asssesment of this film - that is is the BEST detective film ever made - but there's no denying that it's at least ONE OF the best. Another thing I really like about it is that while it's based on the John MacDonald detective Lew Archer (from the novel The Moving Target) it also is very reminiscent of Philip Marlowe, mainly because of the attitude that Paul Newman brings to the role, and the seamy, corrupt world that is uncovered, complete with a weird religious cult in the mountains led by the late, great one and only STROTHER MARTIN! Yes, this movie is absolutely essential to any collection of detective films and it is a literal CRIME that it is not on DVD in a first rate edition. Shame, shame, shame on the industry!
on September 23, 2015
This is the movie version of an early Ross MacDonald novel which was not one of his best. Nevertheless, MacDonald was a master craftsman and there is the complicated plot, disillusioned, wise cracking detective and a gaggle of unpleasant people we expect. The case revolves around the kidnapping of a wealthy, drunken, half- crazed lout that no one cares about. A good cast does justice to the book, but it is unfortunate that they were not working from one of MacDonald's excellent efforts.
on October 12, 2014
Harper is a detective in Los Angeles who lives in a ratty apartment in Los Angeles. He digs yesterday's coffee grounds out of the trash can to make a cup to help drive off his hangover and is off to work. The story is along the lines of that you would find in a Film Noir, but the direction, cinematography and music are all 1960s. If you are looking for "The Maltese Falcon", this ain't it. Instead you are going to get a bit of a fun look at a detective story set in that era. There is a much better movie that Paul Newman made called "The Drowning Pool" if you like the character.
There are some great actors having a lot of fun in this movie, but don't take it too seriously. This is just a fun movie if you enjoy Paul Newman and Janet Leigh and seeing Los Angeles as a setting for for a murder-mystery. I think if you are a baby boomer, you might get a kick out of the actors that show up. If you want a serious movie in Film Noir style stick with Chinatown and Jack Nicholson.
on May 25, 2016
This movie is Paul Newman at his cynical best in this character role. It's a great movie based on a Ross McDonald novel. It's got all sort of characters who keep you guessing just who's up to what and why. It's extremely well directed and acted, and there are all sorts of great actors in this flick: Lauren Bacall, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Pamela Tiffin, Strother Martin, as well as a young Robert Wagner who plays a quietly pivotal role. The story line is excellent, having been well adapted from the book. And what can I say about Paul Newman here? I've seen a number of his pictures, but I love the way he plays the character of Lew Harper, a very much down and out Private-eye. He is killingly cynical in this flick which adds a great deal of humor to a fairly seedy and realistically done crime mystery. This is an older picture nicely transferred to DVD. The picture and sound quality is excellent. If you want a mystery which is also totally entertaining, you will not be disappointed with Harper.
on August 6, 2013
One of my favorite books, Moving Target, be Ross MacDonald was the basis for this movie, and they did it proud. One of Paul Newman's best films although it merited no awards. If you like great mysteries, an awesome cast, and have a couple of hours to be entertained, this is for you. Highly recommended.