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A Good 'Noir' For The '60s
ccthemovieman-112 August 2009
This is very much like a late 1940s film noir, except it's filmed in the mid 1960s. It has that same edgy dialog and feel to it as private eye "Lew Harper" goes looking for a missing man. His character is based on Ross McDonald's best-selling P.I. "Lew Archer."

In "Harper," all the characters are suspicious and they vary from suave "Allan Taggart" (Robert Wagner) to the coquettish late teen "Miranda Sampson" (Pamela Tiffin) to a lawyer "Albert Graves" (Arthur Hill) who's infatuated with the hot teen and also carries a gun. Then there's the overweight has-been entertainer "Fay Esterbrook" (Shelly Winters), the druggie jazz singer "Betty Fraley" (Julie Harris), the New Age scam artist "Claude" (Strother Martin) and a bunch of gangsters and thugs who are the obvious targets. Of them all, I though Winters was the biggest hoot.

Along the way, Newman wins all the verbal bouts but loses the physical contests. He zings everyone with some great put-downs, but takes a physical beating a few times, too. He sports a nice shiner in the last half of the film.

This film will put you smack into the time period, when people danced "The Frug" and referred to cops as "the fuzz." People were starting to wear Beatle-type haircuts, although you'd never find Newman giving in to that counterculture fad. In here, at least, he's old school, tough, relentless and suspicious of everyone......which, at it turns out, is as it should be.

The DVD is now part of the Paul Newman Collection and it's shown with a very sharp 2.35:1 ratio transfer, very much showing off Conrad Hall's cinematography. Johnny Mandel's music score adds to the "coolness" of this film, too.
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cool once and for all
winner552 June 2007
I first saw this film when it came out, at age 12, and chewed my gum like Paul Newman for the next 20 years.

What's remarkable about that is, I "got" the film at that time, recognized its depth (as well as its superficialities), loved it; and having seen the film several times over many years, the basic experience hasn't changed.

This is probably the most accessible "hardboiled" detective film ever made, yet it never panders - it depicts a rough world straight on, and doesn't particularly like - or condemn - any of its characters. Is it the classic that "The Big Sleep" is? No, because its world is smaller than that of Chandler/Faulkner/Hawks, even though it glitters more; and Smight is a solidly competent director but not an 'auteur' - which works in the film's favor: Smight just gets on with the job and tells his story, he doesn't stop for extra flourishes.

But, although all the acting in the film is top-quality, it is Newman's performance that carries the film over the top: witty, cynical, detached, yet with glimpses of passion and commitment, Newman uses Harper to define pre-hippie cool once and for all.

Historical note: although this is not "The-Maltese-Falcon" classic noir film, the detective film was believed to be a genre of the past (at best fodder for bad TV) when this came out. "Harper" kept alive what many thought a dead tradition. The reviewer who wrote that this film made the Elliot Gould "Long Goodbye" possible is right on the money; and when nine years later Jack Nicholson starred in Polanski's tribute to the genre - "Chinatown" - it was Newman's performance here that he is referencing, not Bogart. That makes this an important film, and one should give a second look to a film that influenced so many others.
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Good movie version of the book
dgcrow1 August 2005
I just read "The Moving Target" by Ross Macdonald, the book upon which "Harper" is based. Given that the book was written in 1949 and "Harper" was contemporary (1966) when made, the movie follows the novel pretty darn close. Many of the scenes are done almost verbatim from the book. Harper is more acerbic than Macdonald's Lew Archer, and the novel, of course, fleshes out the characters and their motives a little better. But I think the movie stands up pretty well by itself. It has an outstanding supporting cast and, except for Pamela Tiffin, the acting is good, with high marks especially for Paul Newman and, in my opinion, Arthur Hill. The photography is gorgeous, and I can listen all night to any music by Johnny Mandel. All that and those great one-liners by Newman! I'd give it a 7 or 8 out of ten.
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The Original Post-Modern P.I.?
Hallick27 February 2001
This I don't understand-

For years I've believed in how Elliot Gould's Philip Marlowe in "The Long Goodbye" was the first effort at making a P.I. character a whacked out loser with a post-modern attitude. Yet, I'm watching "Harper" today and my jaw is bounding off the floor like a yo-yo. Because in the lead role Paul Newman gives one of the ten best performances I've ever seen, and maybe the best comedic one from a non-comedian actor ever done. Even at the two thirds mark, when 99% of the screenplays usually have nothing new to say about their characters, Lew Harper was still leaving me damn near breathless. How "Cool Hand Luke" is more famous than "Harper", which is never mentioned anywhere as the king-size sleeper it is, bewilders me entirely.
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Great fun...
JasparLamarCrabb6 September 2005
Until CHINATOWN, HARPER was probably the most mature private eye movie Hollywood ever produced. Paul Newman is dynamite as the scrappy, somewhat goofy title character, hired by wealthy Lauren Bacall to find her missing husband. Newman gets more than he bargained for as he runs into one flaky character after another: Shelley Winters as a bloated former child star, Julie Harris as a junkie, Pamela Tiffen as Bacall's extremely bitchy stepdaughter, Robert Wagner as a private-eye wannabe, and, best of all, Strother Martin as nasty, new-age guru. Not much of what happens really ties together, but it's all very fun to watch. The performers are all terrific and the pseudo jazz score is another plus. Featuring Arthur Hill, Robert Webber and Janet Leigh, underutilized as Newman's frustrated ex-wife.
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An excellent mystery...
keihan8 June 2000
While perhaps not as taut as "The Maltese Falcon", but just as intricate as "Chinatown" or "L.A. Confidential", "Harper" is an under-acknowledged gem of a film that's as cool as it's leading man. It's with this film that I began to get a better appreciation of Paul Newman, easily one of the most versatile leading men Hollywood has ever produced. Here, he plays Harper as something of a SOB, always looking at the paycheck as his top priority. Not that the pond he has to swim in is any better; a frigid woman client, a hot-to-trot teen daughter, a duplicitous servant, an attorney who's the closest thing to a friend Harper has, a washed-up nightclub singer, her sinister, Texan husband, and a cult leader aren't exactly what one would call charming dinner company. It also doesn't help that the guy Harper's trying to find isn't even liked by the wife who hired him (thanks to the under-appreciated fire and spirit of Lauren "Betty" Bacall, one of the true originals) or anybody else. The only thing they like is his money.

Like a good boxer, the plot bobs and weaves, never letting the audience know when the next surprise is coming until it's too late. While Chandler is cited when talking about this film, it also makes me think of Hammett's many, many tales of the Continental Op. Not everybody always tells the truth, not everything is what it seems, and the best laid plans of mice and men (to paraphrase Bobby Burns) wind up falling through. Some people may not have the patience for this film in our razzle-dazzle, in-your-face age of entertainment, but for those who prefer their movies with a soft, subtle touch, this is one for you.
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compsecure23 April 2004
Harper was one of a select few in the sixties that still stand out as eminently watchable films if not for the plot then for a host of other notable features. Newman together with Steve Mcqueen were the cool end of town during the sixties and more or less had the field to themselves.In Harper Newman extends himself in the cool department & delivers a classic performance which ranks with the better films he has made to date. In fact in this role Newman probably tried to do Mcqueen better than the man himself & to a great extent succeeded. Who could resist seeing Pamela Tiffen on that springboard in that bikini if you watched it for no other reason that would not be bad start.The look on Newmans face when he sees the pool for the first time and the laconic looping wave of the arm as he departs the pool after the first encounter with Tiffen & Wagner.The supporting cast should not be forgotten with sterling efforts from the adorable Lauren Bacall & Strother Martin to name a couple.Like many 60s movies which were quickly seen & forgotten this one is worthy of a place in the top shelf as Newman says in the film theres something all bright & shiny. All in all !triffic!
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Top-notch detective yarn
monkeyface_si7 July 2001
Paul Newman makes an ideal Lew Harper (Lew Archer in Mcdonald's novels). And, he is in top form. The supporting cast is amazing. This includes Julie Harris, Lauren Bacall, Pamela Tiffin, Strother Martin, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber, Janet Leigh, and Shelley Winters. Leigh , in particular, makes a bit role one of the film's most memorable moments. The mystery has plenty of good plot twists and Smight direction is tight. All in all, a terrific picture.
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Newman acclaimed as the new Bogart…
Nazi_Fighter_David6 January 2009
The film opens with Harper (Newman), unshaven and gradually awakening from a hangover… He puts his head under a faucet, attempts to make coffee but finds none left, and dispiritedly takes yesterday's grounds from the garbage and makes a perfect1y terrible cup of coffee… At once we get Harper's image as an antihero detective without any illusions…

As he is commissioned by Lauren Bacall to trace her wealthy husband who has been kidnapped, the details are filled in: he's tough, ironic, cool, unpleasant and repugnant… Although occasionally given to a moment of sensitivity or remorse, he's most1y sadistic and exploitative…

Harper is a loner, with an air of detachment and an ability to dispatch opponents with a fist and a flippant remark… He swings into action only mechanically… He chews gum constantly, looks around in an uninteresting manner, makes little disapproving gestures, laughs in total disregards, and smiles mischievously…

Harper's dealings with women are based exclusively on coldness, deception and sexual exploitation… He is estranged from his wife and would like to renew his marriage…
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Ist U.S. Film to end Prod. Code Requirement for retribution for a crime.
jbwedef10 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This contains a Spoiler!

HARPER(1966) is the first U. S. film that - by it's ending - has the perpetrator of a crime not go punished. Even Edward G.Robinson in SCARLET STREET went insane at the end. Harper and his lawyer/ best friend - the Arthur Hill character - essentially agree at the end of the film to not turn the lawyer/friend in for the killing. SPOILER! Newman (Harper) throws up his hands in a Christ-like gesture and the film is over. Essentially, it's a "whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone" ending. Harper is not going to cast his best friend to the wolves (the cops) over a dead kidnapped millionaire no one in the film liked. A bad man, forget it, let's split the money and just go on with our lives. This was the first US film - by my reckoning - to do this.

Unlike other Hollywood attempts of the mid-1960's - i.e. clumsily handled sex scenes - to be as honest as the foreign films of that era,

this one got it right. From this point on, no one had to go to jail or die by the last reel. Morally dubious? Yes. Realistic? Also, Yes.

For this, Harper is a milestone. - James Wiser, Hollywood, CA,USA
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All the 1960's cliches on one piece of film!
RoboSlater4 July 2002
It's a "good" thing. From the go-go music and dancing, to the fearless overacting, to the multiple cameos (that Shelley Winters as an over-eating amorous drunk - wow!) by a who's who of famous actors, this film has everything but snappy editing. Enjoyable mainly for its unpredictability and seeing actors given free reign with their characters (Robert Wagner doing a bad James Cagney out of the blue!).

Enjoyable. If I had reviewed this in the 60's I'd have given it a "5". In 2002, I give it an "8".
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Bluesy Blueprint For Butch?
slokes27 December 2009
Paul Newman was three years away from "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" when he starred in this, a similarly breezy caper flick employing the same writer and cinematographer as would "Butch". But "Harper" tries too hard to be cool, falling short both as story and character study.

Lew Harper (Newman) is down to recycling used coffee filters and waiting for his wife's divorce to come through when he gets a plum assignment: Find a rich drunk named Sampson with a talent for making enemies. Suspects include his convalescent wife (Lauren Bacall), his beautiful daughter (Pamela Tiffin), his private pilot (Robert Wagner), and his tipsy astrologer (Shelley Winters). Harper's also trying to reconnect with his wife (Janet Leigh), even though he is unable to take their relationship seriously.

Watching Newman play cut-up is a lot of fun, and "Harper" coasts on its sunny charm - for a while. Harper's a "new type" of detective, who chews gum instead of cigars, tools around in a tiny two-tone car, and ignores the hottie daughter for a tray of finger food. "With a little luck we'll all be bombed by suppertime" is Harper telling someone he's about to crack the case.

Two things hold "Harper" back, both major: One is the story is way too underbaked. There's a kidnapping at the center of the story, and then a second, apparently unrelated bit of business involving Mexicans smuggled over the California border which throws more suspicious folks into the mix. How the two tie in is never clear, except that Harper stumbles across one while investigating the other and has to deal with both. Neither case generates much intrigue - what you get is a lot of cars driving fast and Harper getting punched around, rote business without a clear, connecting story.

The second major problem, for which I blame director Jack Smight, is the film's harsh tonal shift. It goes from being a somewhat lighthearted take-off on a noir mystery to a hard-boiled film in its own right, with Julie Harris overplaying the part of a sad junkie and Harper himself betraying his true colors as a Grade-Z stinker. Conrad Hall's lenswork and Johnny Mandel's theme music remain zippy and bright, however, and William Goldman's script still goes for the punchlines even as the body count rises and Harper looks ready to throw himself in the Pacific Ocean.

Newman established himself in the 1960s as the ultimate anti-hero, and his take on Harper gives us more of the same, only with an effort at comedy he sometimes overplays. He grimaces, double-takes, winks, snorts, snickers, and spits out enough gum to plaster the San Andreas Fault. He seems to have fun, though, and watching him is fun, at least in the first half, with Tiffin and Wagner presenting his best straight men.

"Do you think I'm attractive?" Tiffin asks Harper while lounging on a bed.

"You're young, rich, and beautiful and my wife's divorcing me," Harper answers. "What do you think I think?"

For his part, Wagner's character helps Harper out of a jam and banters with the guy. Harper calls him "Beauty", a heckuva thing for Newman to call anyone, but their chemistry works, at least until the film turns dark and weird and even Strother Martin as a kooky New Age preacher man can't force a smile. Hey, you think if Wagner grew a moustache, dyed his hair blond, and hung around for more than a few scenes, he and Newman could have made something fun out of this?
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"Hired by a #$@$% to find scum."
rmax30482310 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It ought to have everything going for it. What a cast! And they're all good -- with Paul Newman's Lou Harper at the top of his game, and, somewhere closer to her usual norm, Pamela Tiffen. Newman's performance is among his best. He's a gum-chewing cynical PI who's determined the find the truth behind the disappearance of millionaire Sampson. He has all the necessary tics, nudges, winks, and shrugs. And he registers exquisite pain when somebody clobbers him. There is, for instance, a scene in which a big thug named Puddler sucker punches Newman in a bar, then takes him out back and begins to deliver one or two heavy, deliberately placed body blows. R. J. Wagner sneaks up on Puddler, knocks him out, then gaily begins to help Newman walk back to his car. But Newman groans and leans against the wall, puffing and holding his belly, and begs Wagner, "Wait a minute." A less imaginative actor would have had the character shake his head a few times to clear it, then stride off snapping out orders.

Shelly Winters is equally good in a comic role as an overripe over-the-hill ex-movie star and alcoholic. I can't imagine anyone doing better than Winters when she's berating a hotel orchestra for not playing La Cucaracha, shouting that they can't be REAL "Mescins" or they'd have their guitars, and then stumbling off the platform. Shelly Winters is often nailed for spoiling the pictures she's in but I'm not sure why. Her whining evokes both irritation and pathos. She's brought some pizazz to some other films she's been in too. Ham should always be considered a part of any proper buffet.

So why doesn't the picture come together? Why is the sum less than its parts. Where is the subtrahend? It has a flattish made-for-TV quality. Settings are all comfortably upscale, as in an episode of "Colombo." The L.A. locations seem to be carefully chosen but because of the photography or Mandel's below-average score, they have little impact. Compare "Chinatown" or "Farewell My Lovely." William Goldman's script tries for the telling wisecrack ("Only cream and bastards rise") but there aren't enough of them and they're mostly cracks without wit. The best repartee is between Lauren Bacall and Pamela Tiffen, two women who hate one another and delight in mutual insults. "I love your wrinkles. I revel in them." Still, Goldman's script does manage to hold together a plot that is bilaterally symmetrical. On the one hand, Newman is hired to rescue the kidnapped millionaire Samson and save the half million paid for his return. On the other hand Newman stumbles into an unrelated plot having to do with the smuggling of illegal aliens. The two stories have absolutely nothing to do with one another until more than halfway through the film when Newman alerts one gang to the operations of the other. It's all pretty easy to get lost in, especially when so many disparate characters are involved.

The plot lacks an engine too. I didn't believe for a moment that Newman was genuinely dedicated to his craft, that it was a point of pride with him to "crack this thing," as he puts it. Humphrey Bogart was a cynical, wisecracking PI in "The Maltese Falcon" but what was driving him, as we discover at the end of the film, was the murder of his partner, Miles Archer. Certainly, concern about the fate of the kidnapped rich guy isn't much of a motive. We never even meet him and everybody hates him anyway.

What drives Newman's character? Nothing that we can discover. His marriage is a disaster, he lives in his office, he drives a beat-up car, he has practically no friends. In fact, when you come right down to it, Newman is not a particularly admirable guy in this film. He has a nasty habit of using people. He gets Winters' weak character drunk and then insults her as she lies passed out. He charms some information out of a good-natured barmaid with his New York accent and, when he's finished with her, blows her off by asking directly, "Where's the boss?", and her face falls with the realization that she's been had. He deliberately lies to his emotionally vulnerable but estranged wife, from whom he gets some sympathy and a night in bed before leaving her flat the next morning. He, in turn, has no sympathy for anyone else.

And then there's the end of the film, a freeze frame that leaves us wondering whether Newman will turn his only friend Arthur Hill over to the police or whether Hill will shoot to stop him. The technique may be an integral part of the movie, as it is in "The Four Hundred Blows," in which a delinquent child is frozen while looking at the camera, as if waiting for the audience to judge him. Or it may, as in this case, be an arbitrary gesture, a way of ending a movie that nobody could think of a good ending for. You know, though, having said that, I still prefer an ending like this to the phenomenal shootouts that have since become so commonplace.

See it for the performances.
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Paul Newman's Turn As Private Eye Delivers
Kelt Smith4 October 2006
Sexy, schmaltzy & slick; all good words to describe this 1966 Paul Newman vehicle. Newman cast in the title role of HARPER is a 40ish 'Private Eye' living out of his small agency office pending divorce from his 'had it up to here' wife Susan played by Janet Leigh.

The movie starts out on an early California morning with LEW HARPER going to visit the extremely wealthy convalescent Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall) at her palatial mansion. Mrs. Sampson's husband has been missing for a day and one her husband's attorneys Albert Graves (Arthur Hill) has suggested that she hire his longtime friend HARPER to find the missing millionaire.

"Drink, Mr. Harper ?", offers Mrs.Sampson. "Not before lunch," the declining HARPER says as he spits out his gum. "(But) I thought you were a detective," inquires Mrs. Sampson. "New type," counters HARPER.

Mrs. Sampson's concern about her husband's alleged disappearance has little to do with his well being and more to do with his affability while drunk. Apparently Mr. Sampson has a history of going on drunken binges with "happy starlets" and giving away things. Also present at the house are Mrs. Sampson's ever snooping manservant Felix (Eugene Iglesias), step daughter Miranda (Pamela Tiffin), and Mr. Sampson's private pilot Alan Taggert (Robert Wagner) who was the last person to see Mr. Sampson.

HARPER goes on a whirlwind through southern California running into a variety of interesting supporting characters from fat boozy former starlet Faye Estabrook (Shelly Winters) who had been doing Mr. Sampson's astrology charts for the past several years, Faye's sadistic criminal husband Dwight Troy (Robert Webber), cabaret singer Betty Fraley (Julie Harris), and Claude (Strother Martin), a man to whom Mr. Sampson gave away a whole mountain that he has turned into a 'religious sanctuary'.

Throughout, HARPER is a 'smart Aleck', who runs circles around the inept police personnel, and is one step ahead of the rest of us.

Bright crisp colorful photography, to the point action as directed by Jack Smight, a terrific supporting cast (particularly Winters who didn't mind going out on a limb), & an easy background score. This film is fast paced, and thoroughly enjoyable. HARPER is Paul Newman's baby all the way.
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Another great Newman performance
blanche-221 November 2007
Paul Newman is "Harper," a detective called upon to find a missing husband in this 1966 film based on the book "The Moving Target" by Ross MacDonald. It also stars Lauren Bacall, Arthur Hill, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Robert Webber, Janet Leigh and Julie Harris. Bacall, on the suggestion of the family attorney (Hill) hires Harper to locate her husband. Along the way, Harper meets some bizarre characters, including Strother Martin as an alleged religious guru, Harris as a junkie singer and others. There are enough twists and turns to keep the audience interested throughout.

As Harper, Newman turns in another excellent portrayal as he beards Steve McQueen in his den - and wins. His characterization has wit and style throughout - he's the perfect '60s detective with a wife he needs but can't stay with, a home in his office, and a determination to get at the truth despite a great deal of danger. Though one usually doesn't associate Newman with warmth, he is perhaps more likable in this role than the ubercool McQueen would have been. Newman is, in fact, just plain great as he whips off those one-liners. Though down and out, his Harper plays it as it lays.

The supporting cast is wonderful, top-notch all the way, and the film is accompanied by a terrific musical score. Paul Newman has given us some great portrayals. I put Harper near the top of the list.
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Now THIS is a suspenseful movie!
Tim-17716 July 1999
HARPER has got intriguing characters, crackling dialogue, and an intelligent plot, without resorting to lots of gratuitous nudity and four-letter words. Attention must be paid!
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Sort of an earthy 60s version of a Philip Marlow film...
MartinHafer26 May 2011
While I know this is not a Philip Marlow film and wasn't written by the author who penned the stories (Raymond Chandler), it sure reminded me a lot of a re-working of the film "The Big Sleep". While the Marlow-like character, Harper, isn't quite a smart-mouthed, he otherwise seems like an updated 1960s sort of reinvention of the character. And if you like the older films, you'll also like what appears to be a homage to them in "Harper".

As far as the plot goes, while it's not at all that of "The Big Sleep", it seems to have so many of the same story elements--like they took the old story, broke it up into pieces and re-assembled them all hegely-pegely (oooh, I've always wanted to use that phrase). Now this does NOT mean that the story made no sense--the writers did a good job of piecing it all together and making it watchable.

Harper (Paul Newman) is the basically honest, a bit sad and a tiny bit macho private detective. He is hired to investigate the possible kidnapping of a nasty rich guy--a guy who no one seems to care all that much about, actually. And there are many people in the film who turn out to be bad or have motivations you might not expect. And fortunately, in addition to Newman's fine acting, he's supported by a very nice cast--including Robert Webber, Strother Martin, Lauren Bacall (who, incidentally was in "The Big Sleep"), Arthur Hill (an underrated actor whose face you'll probably recognize) and Julie Harris (in a very atypical sort of role).

Together, the snappy script and characters work very well together to create a well-crafted film--one that stands above the many, many, many other detective films of the era. One other reason it does so well is that it did offer a few nice surprises--and the script kept me guessing. Well worth seeing.
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Only cream and bastards rise to the top.
Spikeopath15 April 2010
Paul Newman's first foray into detective playing came after Frank Sinatra had turned the role down. Quite what the other "blue eyes" would have done with the material is anyones guess, but it's hard to think he could have been as effortlessly cool and have the comic nous that Newman puts into Lew Harper. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as saying that Harper revitalised a faltering "detective" genre, I do however think it's fair to say that it stands as one of the genres most important post 50s entries. Harper has a bit of everything, a dynamite leading performance, a tricksy plot full of suspicious and near bonkers characters, cool locations, dames of all shapes, ages and sizes, and more tellingly, a cracking screenplay that's inventive in structure and sizzles with humour. Hell, even the end has a nice touch, a conversation piece indeed.

With its shades of The Big Sleep and its obvious Raymond Chandler conventions, Harper for sure is hardly original. But it's so colourful, in more ways than one, it is able to hold its head up high and stand on its own two feet as a slickly constructed detective piece for the modern age. That it doffs its cap to those wonderful 40s & 50s movies should be applauded, not used as a stick to beat it with. From the off we know that Lew Harper may well be a cool dude that looks pretty, but he's also the sort of PI that is fallible and is prepared to go low to get his leads. As he fishes out dirty coffee filters from his garbage can to take his morning hit, we know we are in the presence of no ordinary detective. Where ever Harper goes he meets "interesting" characters, if they are not sticking a gun or a fist in his face, then they want something from him or intend to hinder his progress. The roll call consists of a gun-toting attorney (Arthur Hill), a poolside gigolo (Robert Wagner), an alcoholic ex-starlet who has let herself go (Shelley Winters), the missing man's horny daughter (Pamela Tiffin), a jazz loving junkie (Julie Harris), Harper's estranged wife (Janet Leigh) and the leader of nutty religious order "Temple Of The Clouds" (Strother Martin). Then there's the secondary characters that file in and out as Harper chases clues, hit men, bag-men, fresh faced cops and mysterious servants. All serving a purpose and giving the excellent Newman scope to act off.

Tho Conrad Hall's cinematography is on the money, Harper isn't stylish in the film noir tradition in that respect. There's no visual tricks, and in truth this is not a film for the action junkie. What it is is damn fine story telling that is acted accordingly, and yes it is very noirish in plotting. There's never a dull moment and all scenes are relevant. It's also very funny. Witness Harper's "date" with Fay Estabrook, Newman & Winters are comedy gold. And Harper's phone calls to his estranged wife, or simply lap up Martin's hilarious religious berserker turn. But ultimately you want, and need, a bit of hardness in a plot such as this, and we get it as the last third of the film arrives in a ball of gun play and torture. It's a smashing film for those after a slick detective piece driven by a charismatic leading man. 8/10
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How do I love Harper?
Cosmo-3320 September 1999
This movie is so great. It is very funny and intriguing at the same time. It liked it so much that I made my boss at the video store sell it to me. Harper is a down on his luck P.I. who is going through a divorce and lives in his office. The story has a lot of plot twists and is an excellent who-done-it. Also, what can I say about Mr. Newman but simply...yum.
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Could Have Been Good
reader423 August 2010
"Harper" was years ahead of its time. I had to constantly keep reminding myself that I wasn't watching an episode of Mannix (1967) or Cannon (1971). It has the feeling and ambiance of just about every 70s made-for-TV cop drama. Except it lasts twice as long.

People said Paul Newman's acting in The Silver Chalice (1954) was bad. That was Oscar material compared to "Harper." The sensitive, torn up inside young man from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), the starry-eyed idealist from Exodus (1960) and Hud (1963) fumbles badly as he attempts to field a hard-boiled detective role. Mostly he does it through ludicrous mugging and overacting.

Julie Harris is equally miscast as an ex (?) junkie. She is too beautiful and middle-class looking to be the "fungus" she is supposed to be portraying. She can deliver the goods, emotion-wise, of course, but not believably so in this picture.

Shelley Winters is pretty good, but I don't know why she took the part. She is nothing but belittled and insulted by all the men who come in contact with her, made out to be something so repulsive that nobody in their right mind would go near her. "What happened to her? She got FAT!" is how she is introduced, and it goes downhill from there.

In fact, the movie is very misogynistic all the way through. "You're so old-fashioned, I bet you think women belong in the home," taunts Tiffin. "Not in my home," retorts Newman. The only sex he has in the entire film basically amounts to a date rape.

The tits-and-ass appeal are provided by Tiffin and Wagner, she doing a go-go dance in a brief bikini on a diving board that was imitated by both Goldie Hawn and Pamela Rogers on Laugh-In (1967), and he with his Nair'ed chest and plethora of butt shots.

There are lots of laughs, most of them unintentional. The best is when Strother Martin's bracero cult members rise up out of nowhere like zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968) or The Omega Man (1971) and surround Newman. He even holds them at bay by swinging a burning torch!

Bacall is solid, but her part is small. Most enjoyable moment is an exchange of vilifications with Tiffin, with Newman kibitzing, "Puss, puss, puss" from the sidelines.

Standing out like a beacon amidst all this mishmosh is Janet Leigh, who plays the only character I liked, Newman's ex (?) wife. Once again her part is rather small, but she has the only worthwhile moments in the entire film.

Too bad, too, because with its complex plot and its abundance of quirky characters, Harper could have been another Big Sleep. Instead, it turned out to be more of a Big Snicker.
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A 40s Style Detective Story Set In The 60s
seymourblack-126 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Harper" is a typical 1940s detective story which was based on Ross MacDonald's novel called "The Moving Target". It features a quick witted private eye, an investigation into the disappearance of an eccentric millionaire and an assortment of characters who between them are involved in drug addiction, alcoholism and smuggling people across the border from Mexico. It starts very much in the style of "The Big Sleep" as the private investigator visits his invalid client in a mansion and gets distracted by his employer's spoiled young step-daughter.

This is also, however, a 1960s movie which has a number of characteristics which reflect the period in which it was made. Some of these are the presence of bright colours, go-go dancing and a guru. The mood of the piece is noticeably more light hearted than would be normal in a 1940s movie and the private eye is also more laid back. The fashions and music reinforce the movie's 60s credentials and overall the blend of 40s and 60s influences work together remarkably well.

Lew Harper (Paul Newman) is hired by the extremely wealthy but crippled Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall) to find her missing husband. Mrs Sampson's very bitter about the way she's been treated by her heavy drinking spouse and assumes that he's probably with another woman. At the Sampson mansion, Harper meets the millionaire's airhead daughter Miranda (Pamela Tiffin) and the family's private pilot, Allan Taggart (Robert Wagner).

A photograph he finds in Sampson's L.A. apartment, leads Harper to Fay Estabrook (Shelley Winters). She's an overweight, alcoholic ex-actress who Harper charms before going to her apartment where a telephone call provides him with another lead. His further investigations bring him into contact with a junkie nightclub singer called Betty Fraley (Julie Harris) and a religious cult leader called Claude (Strother Martin).

Sampson's been kidnapped and the ransom money is duly paid. Trouble follows, however, when Betty Fraley steals the cash and this leads Harper to suspect that she and Taggart had conspired together to kidnap Sampson. Harper is threatened at gunpoint by Taggart but escapes injury when his old friend Albert Graves (Arthur Hill) appears on the scene. Fraley later leads Harper to the location where Sampson is being held but then some other unexpected developments follow.

Paul Newman is ideal for the lead role which calls for him to adopt a cool, casual and laid back style whilst also showing just how quick witted and professional his character really is. His ability to seemingly meet these requirements with consummate ease is very impressive and really enjoyable to watch. Predictably, Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters and Janet Leigh are also excellent in their roles and Arthur Hill makes a big impression as Harper's lawyer friend who has an enormous crush on Miranda Sampson and great faith in the benefits of isometric exercises.

"Harper" is a movie with a tremendous cast, an absorbing plot and a variety of very colourful characters. The dialogue is full of entertaining one-liners and there are also plenty of humorous as well as dramatic moments to enjoy.
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" So long as there's a Siberia, you'll find Lew Harper on the job "
thinker169125 January 2009
Dectectives per Se are a miserable lot. There's is a primitive existence and are derided by nearly everyone they meet or work for. They are seen as the lowest form of life, by law enforcement officials at every level. Nevertheless, they are indispensable to mystery stories in every city. In this film, "Harper" Paul Newman gives a solid performance to his character. He is hired by an old friend, Albert Graves (Arthur Hill) to investigate what appears to be a missing person's case. The fact the missing man is rich, powerful and much hated, quickly escalates to one of Kidnapping, extortion and finally murder. Along the way, Harper meets an obvious assortment of characters, which includes the dispassionate widow, Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall), the beautiful but self-absorbed, daughter Miranda (Pamela Tiffin), the loyal but lecherous attorney (Arthur Hill), the trusted friend Troy, (Robert Webber) the faithful but ambitious driver Allan Taggart (Robert Wagner) and finally the vicious thug Puddler (Roy Jenson). These are a few of the interesting people who complicate the case, which does not includes Harpers' wife, (Janet Leigh) who pushes him for a divorce. The intricate story twists, turns and involves many a strange bed-fellow from drug addicts, to spiritual charlatans, smugglers and greedy employees. Everything is as it should be for a mystery best seller which lends itself well to a Paul Newman who-done-it. Follow closely and you'll enjoy it, as it's a good movie. ****
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Missing turns to Kidnapping
bkoganbing19 June 2006
The only thing that I find amazing with Harper is why Paul Newman never had done a detective part up till 1966. His laconic screen persona always seemed so right for the role of private gumshoe.

Lauren Bacall hires Newman through the offices of mutual friend, lawyer Arthur Hill, to locate her missing husband. It seems as though disembarked his private aircraft from the airport and vanished. The last to see him alive was Robert Wagner who was his personal pilot.

The call to Newman was premature as the story develops from a Missing Person to a Kidnapping case. Newman really wades through the muck on this one as he interviews a range of persons of interest, one sleazier than the next. And both the widow who hired him and the missing husband turn out to be pretty sleazy themselves.

Paul Newman was really born to play Harper. As much as I liked this one, his second go around as Harper in The Drowning Pool was even better. But that's a review for that film.

Of the supporting cast I particularly liked Julie Harris as the junkie jazz singer and Strother Martin as leader of a wacko religious cult that has some criminal interests.

By the way, the ending is left very much up in the air in terms of what knowledge Newman will divulge to the authorities. Beyond that I won't say.

So if you're curious, see this film, you will enjoy same.
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Artificially Remaking the Gum-Shoe into a New Type
LeonLouisRicci21 August 2014
Falling smack in the Middle of the Old Hollywood and the New Hollywood, 1966 was not the Ideal Year for a Neo-Noir featuring a Private Detective in the Hunt among the Upper and Lower Crust of Society.

This reeks of a Place in No Man's Land with Sprinklings of the Cultural Revolution raining down on the Plastic Environment of Mid Sixties L.A.

Paul Newman is Inconsistent in His Characterization of the Cynical "Gum" Shoe. He Spits it out with Defiance or Sticks it Under the Table, but this "New" form of "Smoking" is just a Prop. In Fact a lot of the Movie looks like Props.

From the Spiritual Temple to the various Apartments it seems Staged. As do some of the Characters. Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Janet Leigh and Arthur Hill manage to have some Fun with Their Characters, but Julie Harris, Strother Martin, and Lauren Bacall are Miscast and can't rise Above the Misstep.

The Awful Generic Music is that what was quickly Found in Elevators Relegating some kind of Hipness to those who didn't have a Clue. The Plot goes here and there Never Settling on a Style.

Lighthearted Goofiness is mixed with Torture and Beatings and it doesn't Blend well. There is an Offbeat Ending but even that Surprise, for 1966, can't Forgive all of the Stiffness that has come Before.

Added Together it is Average at Best and a Disappointing Failure at Worst. It is a Film Lost in the Time that it was made and resurfaces Today as a bit of an Embarrassment, especially for Newman whose Acting Range is Small, and it is Stretched here Beyond its Boundaries, but so is the Production and Direction.
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Newman is Excellent in This Star-Studded Detective Film
mrb198014 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Harper" isn't a typical 1960s detective movie. The hero (Lew Harper, played by Paul Newman) isn't an indestructible, steel-jawed, tough-talking, always-right type. He's an all-too-fallible small-time detective who investigates a kidnapping case involving a rich industrialist and lots of ransom money.

The plot is very complex, and leads Harper into a seamy corner of society, interacting with a variety of characters: Dwight Troy (Robert Webber), a human smuggler; Fay Estabrook (Shelley Winters), a former glamour girl turned fat and alcoholic; Betty Frales (Julie Harris), a drug-addicted bar patron who's after the ransom money; Claude (Strother Martin), a phony preacher; Miranda Sampson (the luscious Pamela Tiffin), the kidnapped man's daughter; Susan Harper (Janet Leigh), Harper's frustrated and estranged wife; Allan Taggart (Robert Wagner) a playboy and member of the kidnap gang; and many others. There's no happy ending though—the kidnapped Ralph Sampson ends up dead. The fate of the big pile of ransom money provides a great twist ending to the film.

The cast has many well-known stars and is uniformly excellent, led by Newman, of course. His anti-hero Harper character is always fun to watch. I also loved Shelley Winters' work as the fat, has-been Fay Estabrook, and of course Pamela Tiffin is easy on the eyes. I especially enjoyed Robert Webber's role as the ultra-slimy Dwight Troy, a contemptible rascal who gets what he deserves toward the end of the movie. The movie moves quickly, provides great dialogue and action, and showcases Newman as he gracefully moved toward middle age.
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