A Movie A Day: Quint on HARPER (1966) The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise.
Published at: April 21, 2009, 6:43 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the kick off look at my new column. Every day from now until I either run out of DVDs or am forced to call uncle I’ll discuss a film I have not watched, continuing the conversation into the talkbacks below. There will be all genres, all eras, all types represented in this column, each film connected via a common factor to the one before it, be it actor, actress, director, writer, composer, cinematographer, etc.
I decided to start off with Paul Newman’s HARPER. I bought the Paul Newman box set a few months ago… it was a crazy cheap deal… something like $18.99 at Costco (it’s much pricier online now, so it looks like I got a bargain) for 7 or 8 movies, all of which I hadn’t seen, so it was a no brainer buy.
It went on the shelf to be watched at a later time. A few months later I was reading William Goldman’s Adventures In The Screen Trade where he discussed this film, his first real screenplay adapted to the big screen. I was intrigued when I read about how he had originally opened the movie with our private dick lead character standing next to a beat up car, in front of a locked gate: the entrance to the crazy adventure he was to go on.
The director or studio, I don’t remember which, wanted something to put credits over and asked Goldman to write a credits sequence… of course he was asked days before they were to start shooting, so he just scribbled down a few beats… Harper laying awake in bed, the alarm clock ringing, his TV still on, and then his morning routine, including the now famous bit where Newman runs out of coffee and ends up using a few days old filter from the trash.
Goldman stated that he thought it was all throwaway material and it wasn’t until he saw what Paul Newman did with these scenes and how his subtle, non-dialogue character beats told us everything we needed to know to get the character that the film art form solidified in his mind.
So, I figured let’s jump into that one first and see where we go from there. It also has a sequel, which we’ll be talking about tomorrow called THE DROWNING POOL. It’s a perfect chain starter.
If HARPER is indicative of the films we’ll be getting this column, then I’m going to be in hog heaven. Paul Newman is absolutely on fire in this flick. You can tell he’s riding a career high, coming off of HUD and THE HUSTLER (actually that’s why the movie is called HARPER… apparently Newman agreed to do it, but wanted to change the character’s name from Archer to Harper to keep the H streak going).
We’re going to look at a good amount of his earlier work before this thing is done and I really hope to see this same fire.
In HARPER you can see why he’s a movie star. Every facial movement, every smile, frown, wink and nod tell us all we need to know about his character. He’s cocky, but he’s also addicted. He’s addicted to the solving of cases, even if they involve people he really doesn’t give two shits about. He’s willing to give up his romance with Janet Leigh for his work. He has ruined his marriage and there’s a very tender moment where you glimpse Harper in his most vulnerable state. He’s beaten, sore and craving the love and affection of his soon to be ex-wife.
Against Leigh’s better judgment she takes him in and it is genuinely heartwrenching the morning after… she’s wearing his shirt, cooking breakfast… happy. He comes into the kitchen and you can just see it on his face. He’s going back to the case.
The way Leigh plays this scene is fantastic. This really is the heart of the movie.
Okay, for those who haven’t seen it, brief plot synopsis… Harper’s a down and out private dick who is hired to find a missing millionaire by his almost indifferent wife (Lauren Bacall). As in any good Private Eye tale, our hero runs into some crazy characters including Shelley Winters as an aging (and widening) starlet, Robert Wagner as a charismatic young Kato Kaylen type who bums around the disappeared millionaire’s mansion and is in some kind of swinging relationship with the daughter of the house, and (my personal favorite) the great Strother Martin as a creepy cult leader. Goddamn Strother Martin is fuckin’ sleazy in this movie…
I think one of the things I loved the most about the movie was the use of Technicolor. It’s so beautifully used in the flick, the colors popping off the screen even on standard def DVD. Technicolor is a lost paintbrush, an extinct tool in the art of filmmaking. We have beautiful movies now… you just have to look at the nominees for cinematography at last year’s Academy Awards… but there’s something about ‘40s-‘60s Technicolor that really is magical to me.
So, this one’s a winner. We have Paul Newman’s follow-up 9 years later, THE DROWNING POOL, set in New Orleans coming up tomorrow. Here’s the list of what’s coming up in the next 7 days:
Tuesday, June 3rd: THE DROWNING POOL (1975)
Wednesday, June 4th: PAPILLON (1973)
Thursday, June 5th: GUN CRAZY (aka DEADLY IS THE FEMALE) (1950)
Friday, June 6th: NEVER SO FEW (1959)
Saturday, June 7th: A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)
Sunday, June 8th: SOME CAME RUNNING (1958)
Monday, June 9th: RIO BRAVO (1959)
So, update the Netflix queue, hit the video store, or Amazon and follow along.
I’m traveling today and tomorrow, but I’d like the dialogue about the flick to continue in the talkbacks below. How many of you guys had already seen this? How many just watched it? How many will watch it now? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it? Let’s get talking!