Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


"Harper looks for trouble. See Harper look. See Harper." It actually has that quote (among many other cheesetastic quotes) on the movie poster. Just by reading that line you can tell it is going to be a 60's movie. I'm not just talking about time period, but in the actual vibe of the movie. With it's fair share of terrible 1960's Hollywood hipster music that would find a home in any Austin Powers movie battling against the look and feel of the throwback gumshoe of the 1940's, Harper is the fine line between square and counterculture.

If not for a fine cast, some excellent dialog, and a decent story I don't think this movie would have held up over time anymore so than Our Man Flint has. However, it has not only held up (an odd phrase from someone who wasn't born until 1990, I know) but actually comes across to me as a very good movie. 

Paul Newman, in his first role as gumshoe according to my DVD case, plays Lew Archer. Ahem, sorry, I meant Lew Harper. Paul Newman actually suggested the name change to the character and the movie because the letter "H" had been so kind to him over his career and he wanted to keep the "H" love flowing. So Lew Harper it is.

Lauren Bacall is featured in the film mostly as a tribute to her previous movies with her hubby Humphrey and I'm sure the importance of that cameo is lost on today's audience (or someone who doesn't watch TCM at least occasionally), but back then it must have been pretty neat. 

Pamela Tiffin was freaking hot in this movie, but the way Paul Newman just shrugged her off as the "bitch in heat" she was made Harper look like a badass. Had this movie been released today I'm sure Harper would be made to look like some kind of feminist asshole by the media as well as a hater of "big women," but thankfully this movie wasn't released in the lost era of All About that Bass

Obviously, I'm alluding to the scenes with Shelley Winters and her fallen pop star character and how Harper tried to get close to her in order to find out about Sampson. He makes fun of her for being fat, gets her drunk, and then takes her back to her place so he can look through her stuff after she passes out. Not exactly ethical stuff, but that's what makes Harper the guy that gets stuff done. 

Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, and Janet Leigh also lend their appearances to this movie. I admit I'm not used to seeing Janet Leigh in a movie without a shower scene where she gets murdered. So this was a refreshing movie. Strother Martin also said something other than "What we've got here is failure to communicate" to Paul Newman. Again, a learning curve for me, but I managed. On the other hand Robert Wagner was just kind of "meh" until the ending where he actually become a character with purpose. Of course, it could be said he was one from the beginning and pretended not to be and that's a fair statement. 

Robert Webber almost stole the movie with his sadism if not for the presence of his more prominent and talented costar, Paul Newman. However, Webber made do with his limited screen time. 

Jack Smight as a director never really made a lot of movies with any real merit other than this. Maybe The Secret World of Harry Frigg (another Paul Newman vehicle) and Midway, but not much else. This movie is kind of like a case of lightning striking for him because he wasn't quite this good ever again. 

I really did enjoy this movie, but what would have made it better would be a bit more jazz to really sell the "gumshoe vibe" and doing away with the technicolor. I think detective movies are just better in black and white. That's not weird, is it? 

But, let's face it, the real reason this movie is awesome is because we get to see Paul Newman doing his best Humphrey Bogart detective schtick. It's one legend honoring another and doing so awesomely. Of course, Newman was able to be his own man, too. He was Paul freaking Newman. 


  1. I read this book and the movie was fairly faithful to it (other than the name Harper). I want to see the sequel to this but I haven't read the book. I was waiting to read the book but I'm not sure that's ever going to happen. I'm going to have to live to be 175 years old to get through my TBR list. I think I'll just go ahead and see the movie.

    Ross MacDonald was an awesome writer. If you ever want to read one of his books, I think most are under 200 pages so you can get through them quickly.

    1. I see plenty of his books available on my Kindle so I'll put him on my list.