Academy Award winner Paul Newman stars with Hollywood legends LaurenBacall, Janet Leigh and Julie Harris as the tough guy Los Angelesprivate detective Lew Harper.Down on his luck and almost broke, Harper(Newman--Road to Perdition) takes a job finding the missing husband ofElaine Sampson (Bacall--Birth). But what should be a simple case takesHarper on a downward spiral through the dark side of the entertainmentcapital.The screenplay by Academy Award winner William Goldman (ButchCassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men) was based on RossMacDonald's novel The Moving Target.
The reason to see Harper
is the kooky mid-Sixties design, the peculiar over-the-hill-gang supporting cast, and the crazy Rat Pack lingo written by famed screenwriter William Goldman. And, of course, Paul Newman fans will want to see their guy in the full flower of his anti-hero hero phase. Anyone seeking a decent adaptation of Ross Macdonald's great series of detective novels will, however, be sorely disappointed. Macdonald's Lew Archer is a melancholy knight who operates in an increasingly somber tangle of family crimes; the movie's Lew Harper is a wisecracking hepcat who mugs his way through an indifferent missing-persons investigation. (Frank Sinatra, who was offered the role, would have been a better fit than Newman.) The cast includes Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, and Shelley Winters as various femmes, none of them especially fatale, and Robert Wagner has one of his better roles as a kind of cabana boy to the rich. Strother Martin pops up as a bearded guru with a love temple on top of a Southern California mountain. The director is Jack Smight, whose career was largely made up of TV work. This was the first Goldman script to be made into a film, based on Macdonald's novel The Moving Target
; as Goldman states in an enjoyable DVD commentary track, the name Lew Archer was switched to Harper because of Macdonald's reluctance to sign away franchise rights to his private eye's name, not because Newman wanted to have another movie with an "H" title (after The Hustler
). That clears up a long-running urban legend. Newman did make another Macdonald adaptation, The Drowning Pool
, in 1975 again using the Harper name. For a much better mid-sixties cool private-eye picture, see Blake Edwards' Gunn
. --Robert Horton