Based on the Ross MacDonald novel The Moving Target, is a star-driven Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) neo-noir. Released in 1966, The film was a solid hit, grossing nearly $12 million in the U.S. and Canada against a budget of $3.5 million. Alongside Newman in the title role, is an exceptional supporting cast: Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber, Shelley Winters and, in a nod to classic noir, Lauren Bacall, playing a role reminiscent of her invalid father in The Big Sleep.
Lew Harper (Newman), is a man down on his luck. In the opening scene, we see that the Los Angeles private investigator sleeps on a sofa bed in his little office, and he’s forced to reuse wet grounds pulled out of the trash upon learning he’s run out of coffee. To make matters worse, his wife Susan (Leigh, The Manchurian Candidate) wants a divorce.
Luckily for Lew, there’s work to be done. On the suggestion of his attorney friend Albert Graves (Hill), he’s been hired by sharped-tongued Elaine Sampson (Bacall, Ernest and Celestine), a wealthy confined to a wheelchair, to find her millionaire husband, who disappeared after a Las Vegas to Los Angeles flight.
At Elaine’s estate, Lew is introduced to her spoiled, flirtatious stepdaughter Miranda (Pamela Tiffin), and the family’s handsome private pilot, Alan Taggart (Robert Wagner, The Pink Panther). From there, the investigation leads him to a hotel bungalow where he met his mistresses. Soon enough, Harper finds himself with a colorful set of possible suspects. Former starlet Fay Estabrook (Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank) now, an overweight alcoholic, her violent husband Dwight Troy (Robert Webber), club singer Betty Fraley (Julie Harris), a heroin addict, and a new age cult led by Strother Martin, McLintock!). It seems all of them may be involved in a kidnapping plot.
The character of Lew Harper is a good fit for Newman. He’s a laid-back guy, and unimpressed by wealth and its spoils. He also has no illusions that his greedy client wants her husband to be found alive. Nonetheless, he sees himself as a man on a worthwhile mission, and his commitment is admirable. A man of principle, Harper resists Miranda’s attempts at seduction because he still pines for his estranged wife. While this subplot would most often be unnecessary, it provides a heartbreaking, yet telling, scene. After one evening together, Harper walks away from potential reconciliation because of the need to properly wrap up the case.
William Goldman (who won an Edgar Award for his script), does a fine job defining the characters with scintillating dialogue: Newman’s Lew Harper (“The bottom is loaded with nice people Albert, only cream and bastards rise.)” Shelley Winters as Fay Estabrook (“I am classy. Not everybody notices.”) and Arthur Hill as Albert Graves (“You were hired by a bitch to find scum.”) Breezily directed by Jack Smight, Airport 1975), cinematographer Conrad Hall adds a glossy technicolor sheen to the proceedings, emphasizing the ‘slick’ underbelly of Los Angeles Harper finds himself investigating.
Led by Paul Newman, an excellent supporting cast, and a strong script, Harper is an effective neo-noir with a sixties feel, and a few homages to 1940’s noir. Well worth a look!
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive has provided a very strong presentation. The image looks sharp throughout, with only a couple of very brief flashes of softness. Colors look vivid, and skin tones appear as expected. Blacks look inky, and there are no apparent print flaws. Fans should be pleased with this transfer.
The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack sounds fine. Dialogue comes through clearly, if a bit stiff. The music is also fine, as the songs and score lack any real range, but are reasonably full. Considering the films age, this is a more than acceptable mix.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available.
- Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Goldman
- Trailer (HD, 3:47)
Movie title: Harper (1966)
Director(s): Jack Smight
Actor(s): Paul Newman , Lauren Bacall , Julie Harris , Arthur Hill , Janet Leigh , Pamela Tiffin
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Crime