There is not much that tops the kind of cool Paul Newman exudes. Whether he is teaching Tom Cruise a thing or two (The Color of Money), partnering up with Robert Redford (The Sting), or proving that he can eat fifty Hard-boiled eggs in an hour (Cool Hand Luke) there is not much Newman hasn’t done to prove his worth in film. A two-film series I was completely unaware of was that of the Harper Detective movies, a veritable set of films that come ever so short of being Dirty Harry and don’t do much to etch their way into film history. However, Newman is Newman and it is always a good decision to watch him work.
Harper is a typical sixties detective flick with a not so unfamiliar plotline. The most redeeming quality, and possibly its only redeeming quality Is Paul Newman. Newman was already a major player at this point and his name being attached to the film did it wonders. What seems most odd to me, is that the film gained enough of a following/interest to fund the second film The Drowning Pool. This seems oddly reminiscent to me of the Dirty Harry series, the first film being entitled Dirty Harry, and the fourth film, of course, being called The Dead Pool.
When we first meet Harper he is already past his prime and has gained an ever so slight distance from a mid-life crisis. His business is failing, and his life isn’t particularly going according to plan. Harper is summoned to meet with a rich housewife who gives him a case he will never forget. What seems like your run of the mill missing husband case, gets progressively more complicated as cults and murder cloud every aspect.
Newman is reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart and does well to pay homage to the detective leads before him. The story doesn’t offer much in the way of buy-in, although I have to imagine it was much more thrilling in 1966. The film certainly has its moments where it feels fresh and not at all impacted by the amount of time that has passed. Some of the best moments rely heavily on dramatic performance rather than plotline to carry and keep the interest of the viewer and this is where Newman shines above all.
The Film 3/5
One of my all-time favorite and in all actuality one of the best DOP’s (Director of Photography’s) Conrad L. Hall, was the Cinematographer of choice on this film. He would go on to work with Newman again on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and this was just the start of a rather impressive resume for him. Director Jack Smight, who directed another film I reviewed previously The Illustrated Man, wanted the film to feel raw and uninhibited without too many extras and working side-by-side they were able to do just that. The upgrade to Blu-ray is wonderful and loaded with detail that may have previously gone unnoticed.
Picture Quality 5/5
Composer John Mandel does his best to create a raw, gritty tone to complement Newman’s performance. He accomplishes this with ease using a wonderful score that matches the air of originality and grit that all parties involved worked so hard to achieve. I found the film easy to enjoy and had no need to turn on subtitles to make out the muddled dialogue. The upgrade here seems to have done well to enhance and drive the overall point of the film home.
Audio Quality 5/5
One of the first hints that this film is from the sixties is the cover. The colors, the blocks, the phrasing on the cover art all point to several sixties era cliches. The phrasing, I find, to be both inviting and a little ineffective-now. It also appears to be a little misleading, with phrases like “This is a fight. Harper has many fights. See the fights.” with action films being what they are today in all honestly Harper does not have that many fights. He also doesn’t “shoot that straight” or “go for lots of girls” or even “look for trouble”. However misleading they may be, within the genre subset and the time period of the film this works, and works well to draw people in. I found the Amaray to be sturdy, intact, and I always love when the disc comes with artwork of its own-but I’m a throwback that way.
The packaging 4/5
Warner Archives does well to restore, upgrade and release classic films that may or may not have been forgotten. In the process, it is not uncommon for a Warner Archive release to not include any extraordinary extras. With this release, we only get to experience commentary and the original theatrical trailer. I actually enjoy getting a chance to see the original trailer for a film this age. I like to picture the “oohs” and “ahhs” from the excited audience wondering what intrigue they might get to experience the upcoming picture. Alas, I cannot in good conscience give a good rating to the unfortunately bare feature menu for this release.
Special Features 2/5
Harper got my attention and rather quick all things to be considered. The film had me the minute he had to re-use yesterday’s coffee filter for today’s mystery, truly a great moment in the film. I am excited to watch the second installment that did not release until nine years later. We should see a much different Newman and hopefully an even more broken down Harper. Not to mention what a “seventies” versus a “sixties” detective flick look like in comparison. All in all, I cannot truly say this is one of my favorites. However, I am always down to watch something new, especially if that something new is something old with Paul Newman as our lead. You can buy this release HERE.