Re-Watching the Classics: Harper

Harper is a neo noir from 1966 directed by Jack Smight. When a producer asked writer William Goldman to find him a script with a harder edge, Goldman recommended Ross Macdonald’s Archer books. He was asked to write a screenplay and choice the first book in the series “The Moving Target.”

This movie was Goldman’s first solo screenplay writing credit and started the career of one of the greatest screenwriters in history.

So why is this movie called “Harper” and not “The Moving Target” or “Archer”? Well I have found three possibilities for this change of title in my research. I will call these theories since I do not know which one is right. One is Paul Newman wanted the name change to continue his streak of hits starting with H, including The Hustler and Hud, Hombre would come out a year later. The second theory is the film rights were for the story only and the rights to the Lew Archer name was not included in the deal. The third is the Macdonald estate was not pleased with the idea of a film and would not allow the use of the Archer name. Hard to say what really happened here, but I suspect theory two or three is true and they named it Harper because of theory one.

Either way, we got a throwback film in the vain of a classic film noir revolving around a private eye. This must have been an exciting film for fans of noir that didn’t really have a lot to choice from in the 1960’s. Fans of film noir also got to see some familiar faces from some of their past favorites. They got three of the best actresses from the classic film noir era making appearances in this film, Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, and Shelly Winters.

Paul Newman plays Harper as a wise cracking, tough as nails, street smart private detective, just like we like them. Harper is a little more wise than some of our detectives in the past, for instance all three of our female legends try to use their feminine ways on our hero in various ways, but all fall in the end. In fact he uses his charms on them to get what he wants more than the other way around. Harper may not have a lot of money, but he does have great taste. For instance I think his car tells much about the man. He has a Porsche, but it is a little beat up and in need of a tune-up and he has no money to do the proper repairs.

We do have a femme fatale or two in this film. Our first femme fatale is played by Pamela Tiffin who is a bit of a Lolita to Harper’s friend and the lawyer who got him this job, played by Arthur Hill.

Tiffin’s character also has a thing for pretty boy Allan Taggert, played by Robert Wagner. The thing is Taggert already has a femme fatale that is revealed later in the film.

This film is a twisted kidnapping case where Harper is hired by Bacall’s character to find her missing husband. As Harper tracks different leads, he discovers more strange characters. Will Harper find the kidnap victim before it is too late?

The first time I seen this, I was already a huge fan of Bacall and Newman and found the film good, but not great. On watching this again, I really found I enjoyed it much more. The wise cracking humor is very good and not over the top, especially Winters’ character. I think if you are a fan of hardboiled P.I.’s like Marlowe, Spade and Hammer you should give Archer…I mean Harper a try.

Favorite Tidbit: Frank Sinatra was offered the lead, but turned it down.

Review: He Ran All the Way

He Ran All the Way stars John Garfield in his last role.  Garfield died of coronary thrombosis at the age of 39.  Garfield was a prominent actor in the classic noir period.  Shelley Winters also stars as the female lead early in her illustrious career. Character actor Wallace Ford also appears as Winters’ father.  This film is based on a book by Sam Ross and directed by John Berry.  The film was released in 1951, five years after Garfield’s most famous role in The Post Man Always Rings Twice.

This film starts out with Garfield and his partner robbing a payroll.  They are chased and Garfield’s partner is shot.  Garfield gets away, but shoots a police officer in the process.  He escapes to a public pool and literally runs into Winters.  He quickly knows she may be his way to hide out.  They go back to her apartment where we and Garfield learn she lives with her parents and little brother.  The police officer dies and Garfield is all over the papers as the killer.  Garfield takes the family hostage while he hides out there.  Will Garfield get away with the loot?  Will Winters fall for him as they go off together to live happily ever after?  Will Garfield kill any of the members of the family before he gets away?  Will Garfield even get away?

The tension is strong for this classic and works very well.  It has a simple plot with great performances from the small cast.  This is a very good film noir worthy of any noir fan’s time.  I wish we had a few more of these films from Garfield before he left us, but we can always go back and watch The Postman Always Rings Twice and the handful of other noir films he has starred in.