Harper (1966)

Lew Harper is a Los Angeles based private investigator whose marriage to Susan Harper, who he still loves, is ending in imminent divorce since she can’t stand being second fiddle to his work, which is always taking him away at the most inopportune of times. His latest client is tough talking and physically disabled Elaine Sampson, who wants him to find her wealthy husband, Ralph Sampson, missing now for twenty-four hours, ever since he disappeared at Van Nuys Airport after having just arrived from Vegas. No one seems to like Ralph, Elaine included. She believes he is cavorting with some woman, which to her would be more a fact than a problem.


Harper got the case on the recommendation of the Sampsons’ lawyer and Harper’s personal friend, milquetoast Albert Graves, who is unrequitedly in love with Sampson’s seductive daughter, Miranda Sampson. Miranda, who Harper later states throws herself at anything “pretty in pants”, also has a decidedly cold relationship with her stepmother, Elaine..

According to the TCMDb, this film was “one of Newman’s biggest hits of the ’60s and a film that helped establish his reputation as one of the screen’s coolest stars”


23 April 2004 | by compsecure (sydney australia) – See all my reviews

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!


Good movie version of the book

Author: dgcrow from Kelso, WA
1 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.


A Good ‘Noir’ For The ’60s

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
12 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.

Newman acclaimed as the new Bogart…

Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
6 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…

Only cream and bastards rise to the top.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
15 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


Noir and humour make an original, sassy classic.

Author: (michael-heathcote3) from Hampshire, England
13 October 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It astounds me that this movie isn’t higher rated, talked about more, written about more. It is phenomenal. Funny, satirical, sassy, well cast and acted. It has all the ingredients of noir, the rich bitch with a vendetta, a mean patriarchal crimelord, a complex plot of nefarious goings on, a few homicides along the way, a betrayal by a friend, and a hard boiled and cynical P.I. who knows every trick in the book. Trump card is the L.A. setting, and that’s where the satirical edge comes in. Strother Martin as a berobed cult leader is a scream, and there is real satire here aimed at the freakier fringes of California’s laid back community.


The movie has a cracking script by Goldman, a good score, and is choc full of style. My only very slight quibble with it is that it is almost TOO ambitious and tries to be both great noir and great semi-humorous gumshoe thriller. But it largely succeeds in all things and Newman is sizzling as the humorous, sharp as a razor P.I. I can see its influence in several great films that followed it, including Chinatown, and that’s why I am staggered at the lack of attention it gets. Top noir, even topper P.I. semi comic thriller. Outstanding and groundbreaking.

” So long as there’s a Siberia, you’ll find Lew Harper on the job “

Author: thinker1691 from USA
25 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. ****


William Goldman had written a novel Boys and Girls Together, the film rights to which had been optioned by Elliot Kastner. Kastner met with Goldman and expressed a desire to make a tough movie, one “with balls”. Goldman suggested the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald would be ideal, and offered to do an adaptation. Kastner agreed, saying he would option whatever of the novels Goldman suggested, and Goldman chose the first The Moving Target. According to Goldman, the script was offered to Frank Sinatra first who turned it down, then to Paul Newman, who was eager to accept as he had just made a costume film, Lady L, and was keen to do something contemporary.


The script was originally called Archer. The name of the lead character was changed from Lew Archer to Harper because the producers had not bought the rights to the series, just to The Moving Target. Goldman later wrote “so we needed a different name and Harper seemed OK, the guy harps on things, it’s essentially what he does for a living.

Goldman adapted another Macdonald novel, The Chill, for the same producers, but it was not filmed.Paul Newman pulled out of the project and Sam Peckinpah became attached as director for a while as the film was set up at Commonwealth United Productions. But when that company wound up its film operations it was not made.

Yet another Macdonald novel, The Drowning Pool, was adapted to film with Paul Newman reprising the role of Harper. The Drowning Pool was released, by Warner Brothers, in 1975.


cool once and for all

2 June 2007 | by (winner55) (United States) – See all my reviews

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.

Paul Newman’s Turn As Private Eye Delivers

Author: Kelt Smith from Baltimore, MD
4 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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