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Paul Newman memorably plays the title role in this box-office hit based on Ross MacDonald’s The Moving Target. The first detective film in Newman’s then 23-film career, Harper revitalized the genre. Newman’s sleuth chews gum fast…and slips out of jams ever faster as he unravels a twisted case of kidnapping and murder. William Goldman’s clever script throws quips and a parade of LA-LA-Land characters Harper’s way. There’s a woman of means (Lauren Bacall), a gun-toting attorney (Arthur Hill), a poolside gigolo (Robert Wagner), a boozy ex-starlet (Shelley Winters), a jazz junkie (Julie Harris), Harper’s estranged wife (Janet Leigh) and the unholy order of the Temple of the Clouds (led by Strother Martin). Each may possess a clue. Or a bullet for Harper.
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The film was very fresh and hip back in the day and I saw it many, many times. Today, of course, we live in a different world and I'd have to imagine some PC fools who don't understand context will be made uncomfortable by a few things on view here. This was William Goldman's first movie script and it's filled with classic lines, but there are scenes that simply don't work well, although the freshness when it came out sort of distracted everyone from noticing those flaws. So, this release is a mixed bag for me, but the cast alone makes it worth a purchase.
Ross Macdonald fans should love this interpretation of the Moving Target, even if Lew Archer's name has been changed to Lew Harper. Solid acting and film-making all around, even noir queen Lauren Bacall shows up in a scene stealing role. Standout performances include Newman, Julie Harris, and especially Janet Leigh. Strother Martin has a particularly creepy role as Claude, a cult leader that best captures the unnerving supporting characters Macdonald is famous for. A must have for fans of the genre.
I am a fan of the private eye films of Bogart, William Powell, Dick Powell, and so many others. For years, no Hollywood studios made a private eye film. The studios felt the private eye movie was "old hat". "Harper" marks the return of the private eye movie.
Harper does his job, gets his butt kicked, kicks some butt and figures out that old friends, who have saved your butt, are more important than ethics or philosophy! In the end, Harper knows a little more about who he really is. More importantly, he gains clarity from his interaction with some bad people rather than from an intellectual pursuit.
Hey, it's an entertaining movie about a kidnap/homicide. The victim is a rich man who plays with the wrong crowd and looses. It's about an LA P.I. that isn't taking pictures of guys cheating on their wives; at least at the moment. It's an old time detective movie set in the late fifties or early sixties. It has a great list of actors. The architecture is great too!
If you like it - the sequel is "The Drowning Pool!" You might want to try China Town, The Two Jakes, LA Confidential and the Black Dahlia too.