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A Movie A Day: Quint on HARPER (1966)
The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise.

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! -Quint

Readers Talkback
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  • June 2, 2008, 11:37 p.m. CST

    great idea

    by ClockWorker

    one movie you haven't scene each day. That's a noble vow to take.

  • June 2, 2008, 11:39 p.m. CST

    How long will this one last?

    by zacdilone

    Every "regular" column AICN has launched has had a pretty short life span. Why bother trying?

  • June 2, 2008, 11:41 p.m. CST

    Two weeks, tops

    by Heckles

    Sorry Q, just saying. Actually, I'm not sorry.

  • June 2, 2008, 11:45 p.m. CST

    Well, it looks like I can't add two cents till Wednesday

    by the beef

    But, I'm anxious for next Monday now. RIO BRAVO is an all-time fave.

  • June 2, 2008, 11:48 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    I'm not saying this one will be the exception. I don't know what lies ahead, but I'm psyched for it now, so the enthusiasm is there. Why bother trying? Well, if we didn't then what the hell would you read? heh<BR><BR>I'm in Los Angeles tonight, but I brought the next movie with me and thankfully there's a DVD player in the hotel room so I don't have to watch it on my Mac. Talk to you folks tomorrow.

  • June 2, 2008, 11:53 p.m. CST

    I also bought that Newman set at Costco

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Also grabbed the Marlon Brando set (five movies) for the same price. Already watched Somebody Up There Likes Me, and I'm looking forward to watching the rest when I have the time.

  • June 2, 2008, 11:59 p.m. CST

    Good Luck, But

    by georges garvaren

    I'm a little shocked that you have yet to see many of these films. I 'suppose you are going to be seeing them soon enough, and that's the important thing.

  • June 3, 2008, 12:13 a.m. CST

    Good luck Quint

    by zacdilone

    I guess my feeling is that we've seen a pattern of starting a regular column, a good first few entries, a hiccup or two, a repentant column pledging to be more faithful from now on, then an eventual disappearance altogether. It's like me an my blog...I'll go for weeks without writing something, then post an entry apologizing and pledging to do better. Which I never do. In my thinking, it would be better to give the column a title like "FROM QUINT'S COLLECTION," then write when you can. We appreciate what we get, and I'd rather be promised less and be pleased with what comes out of that. But I'll admit--I'm cynical from past examples both here and other sites I frequent, so I'll just wish you luck and look forward to what you write!

  • June 3, 2008, 12:14 a.m. CST

    It's sad...

    by loogenhausen

    ...that pretty much everyone posting so far hasn't even mentioned the film at all. But don't forget to go out and consume whatever pops up every Friday night at your local Shitplex, by all means. That's what makes you all experts on movies - keep telling yourself that. Just watched this the other day back-to-back with the Drowning Pool and I enjoyed both of them. Harper definitely gives off a cool kitschy '60's vibe and I really dug Arthur Hill's performance as well as Paul Newman's. I'll save my comments for Drowning Pool for tomorrow I suppose...

  • June 3, 2008, 12:17 a.m. CST

    One of those cases

    by psychedelic

    Harper is one of those cases where I'd like to read the book first. I've heard great things about Ross Macdonald's books over the years and I just haven't gotten to them yet. So after I read the novel Harper is based on I'll gladly watch the movie.<p> Rio Bravo is terrific. I only got to it a few years ago myself. Now I've got it in HD. <p> Hey Quint, if you're in L.A. for a few days try to stop by The Silent Movie Theatre on Wednesday night at 8pm. They're showing Four Horseman of the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentino. I plan on attending and it'd be cool to meet.

  • June 3, 2008, 12:45 a.m. CST

    Damn you Netflix!!!

    by warsinthesun

    Still waiting for mine. Still think your column should be in its own section. Might last longer too. :)

  • June 3, 2008, 1:10 a.m. CST

    Great Idea Quint, but...

    by WelcoMatt

    Even better if you focused on The Criterion Collection films!!!

  • June 3, 2008, 1:14 a.m. CST

    BTW... FUCK this AMAZON hyperlink SHIT

    by WelcoMatt

    Why don't you link us to IMDB... Oh! That's right. Then the kickbacks would stop...

  • June 3, 2008, 1:26 a.m. CST

    New to me

    by MediaNerd

    Hmmm, I don't recall hearing about this one before. Defiently sounds like its worth tracking down.<br><br> Paul Newman's greatness has been sadly overlooked by my generation and younger. He's been reduced to the salad dressing caricature in most minds, but then i'll go back to one of his movies and just be blown away by what an amazing actor he was.

  • June 3, 2008, 1:34 a.m. CST

    A Trilogy Of H

    by Flummage

    <P>I did not know that.</p> <P>I have seen Harper, but it languishes so far back in my mindscape somewhere, in a place where I think I was mor concerned with fapping than Film, that I will gladly use this as impetus to seek it out once more. <p>Newman is one of the most watchable alpha screen-stallions in the talkies, for my money. Even when playing someone cocky or assured, he always somehow manages to be vulnerable, too. A wounded, inclusive kind of machismo, even - if I were to take it one, fartier, step further.</p> Anyway, best of luck with the feature, Quint, it's off to a nice start.

  • June 3, 2008, 1:38 a.m. CST

    sounds killer...

    by bernard

    i'd follow along but i just bought class of nuke 'em high and switchblade sisters on amazon...haven't seen nuke 'em high in years and switchblade sisters is to fill my jack hill needs after seeing spider baby for the first time. <p> plus my girlfriend is on dual shelly winters and peter lorre marathons and she doesn't let me fuck with her netflix. <p> harper is definitely one i'd like to check out though.

  • <p>I would imagine it won't always be conveniant, but for what it's worth, I liked the use of the quote as a subheading. <p>A nicely placed quote with a review is often welcome, and here I think it kinda makes a nice break from the norm on the news roster.</p>

  • June 3, 2008, 1:44 a.m. CST

    i also agree with the quote as a subheading

    by bernard

  • June 3, 2008, 2:15 a.m. CST

    I am definitely interested

    by kungfuhustler84

    over the past few months I have really become obsessed with noir. Blast of Silence was an incredible release. I also just saw Tokyo Drifter a few weeks back and it blew me away with its use of color. this one sounds like another great addition to the genre so I will check it out for sure.

  • June 3, 2008, 3:01 a.m. CST

    Welco, Flummage

    by Quint

    I have a ton of Criterion releases that will definitely be included. You could almost make that its own column. But there are a few Criterion Fellini movies I have and a few Kurosawa movies I have, but haven't seen... plus a lot of more random and obscure flicks from Criterion. All in due time.<BR><BR>I understand the focus on the Amazon links since there are a few columns that use a lot of them... but I really only use them in a big way in my Holiday Shopping Guide. I figure it's fitting here... I probably won't make much off of them, but what I do will just further me getting more DVDs and keeping this column going. You don't have to click on 'em if you don't want to.<BR><BR>I'll do what I can to keep the subheads going. The space is limited (I actually had to reword this headline because it stopped me half way through "rise." It might not always be a quote, but there will definitely be something.<BR><BR>Alright, gotta sleep now. Be back tomorrow with my thoughts on Drowning Pool and to check up on the conversation here, too.

  • June 3, 2008, 3:31 a.m. CST

    Great ending

    by scruffytbk

    Just watched this last week. I really liked the last conversation in the car, thought it was a really good way to end the movie.

  • June 3, 2008, 3:52 a.m. CST

    HDnet Movies

    by VeryBadBoy

    has been showing Harper last month and this month in widescreen high definition and it looks great if you get that channel on cable or satellite!

  • June 3, 2008, 3:53 a.m. CST

    Next showing

    by VeryBadBoy

    of Harper on HDnet-movies channel is this coming Friday early in the morning. Set those HD-DVRs.

  • June 3, 2008, 4:27 a.m. CST

    Hey Quint!

    by WelcoMatt

    Sent you a PM about my earlier comment on Criterion. Look for an e-mail from BPMatt... :)

  • June 3, 2008, 4:33 a.m. CST

    Not a trilogy of H, actually

    by Napoleon Park

    Hud, The Hustler, Harper...<p>Hombre.

  • June 3, 2008, 4:42 a.m. CST

    i saw this so long ago

    by Napoleon Park

    Vista Drive In, with my dad when I ws a kid. We loved Newman and McQueen flicks. We saw a lot of great movies - "The Flim Flam Man", "Rhe Traveling Executioner", "Bullitt," "Rage," "Straw Dogs," "Brewster McCloud".<p.I don't remember that much about "Harper" except that it was great.<p>I think I saw it on TV one night when they censored off that last word - which these days you can hear on most sit-coms. Times change.<p>This is a great concept for a daily destination site. I'll be here most days doing my bit to keep the Lost talk-back going anyway, so I'll make a point to check in. "Good luck, we're all counting on you."

  • June 3, 2008, 5 a.m. CST

    I love the idea of this column

    by IndustryKiller!

    And I know I won't be able to keep up with anything nearing regularity, but I'll certainly read it and get myself familiarized with some great films that I can check out later. Those asking whether it will last or not are completely missing the point. Keen idea Quint.

  • June 3, 2008, 5:35 a.m. CST

    Good idea, Quint!

    by Motoko Kusanagi

    Keep going!

  • June 3, 2008, 6:13 a.m. CST

    Saw this when I was a teen

    by bb6634

    I remember seeing 'Harper' when I was fourteen or so, and I remember liking it. I haven't seen it since but I remember the look of the film, and the description Quint gives is accurate. Even on full-screen VHS the colours seemed richer, the images bigger. I saw it's follow-up 'Drowning Pool' a few years later and thought it was a superior film. 'Pool' actually makes an interesting double bill with another detective movie that came out the same year (1975: Arthur Penn's 'Night Moves', which is like a post-modernist mirror image of 'Drowning Pool' (both movies even star jailbait Melenie Griffith). Good luck with new column Quint. You are in for a treat with 'Rio Bravo'.

  • June 3, 2008, 7:12 a.m. CST

    The Drowning Pool sounds amazing...

    by SmokeFilledTavern

    I love films set in New Orleans, and from the seventies. Hadn't heard of it.

  • June 3, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST

    What was the ending of Harper all about?

    by Steve Rogers

    Got the same box set as you Quint, and watched Harper and The Drowning Pool recently. Good flicks, enjoyed both of them, Newman is superb (though the sequel doesn't really have as many killer lines as Harper, maybe because no Goldman?). But what was with that freeze frame at the end of Harper? Was an interesting moment, all the more so because you know that there is zero chance any studio film today would be allowed to end with the audience on the hook like that.

  • June 3, 2008, 7:28 a.m. CST

    The 'H Trilogy' Myth

    by Laserhead

    From Amazon: "as William Goldman states in an enjoyable DVD commentary track, the name Lew Archer was switched to Harper because of Macdonald's reluctance to sign away franchise rights to his private eye's name, not because Newman wanted to have another movie with an "H" title (after The Hustler and Hud)."

  • June 3, 2008, 7:46 a.m. CST

    And how long will this column last?

    by Larry Sellers

    Or at least how long will it be before "Sorry guys I've been busy [insert ambiguous tease about set visit here]"?

  • June 3, 2008, 7:51 a.m. CST

    I'm surprised...

    by Rustle

    That you haven't seen some of these films already.. Papillion is going to blow your mind.. Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen both act the shit out of that movie.. Great fucking film!!!

  • June 3, 2008, 7:55 a.m. CST


    by just pillow talk

    I really like this idea, a great chance to throw some old movies on my netflix list. I've added Harper, so maybe I'll throw it to the top after I send back the movies I've got coming. <p>To ensure it's longevity (this column), perhaps you shouldn't review a movie each day. I know you have the enthusiasm to do it right now, but you wouldn't want it to "feel" like work if you're scrambling to find time on the road to watch a movie. I'd rather you pace yourself, if you will, a bit. Maybe watching a movie every other day?

  • June 3, 2008, 8:06 a.m. CST

    Column Pace

    by MediaNerd

    I would think running this weekly instead of daily would be more beneficial. If you really want this to be a discussion on the film, you need to give people a chance to watch and dialog back and forth a bit. If its daily, i can't imagine you'll have a good discussion.

  • June 3, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    Good, not great

    by frankiecrisp

    It looks as though I’m swimming against the current on “Harper.” It’s not that it’s a bad movie just one that could have been executed better in terms of building suspense. “Harper” doesn’t belong to the P.I. movies of the noir period even with some of the great lines, including a wonderful exchange on keeping the change. I saw it as a proto- “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon.” Harper has his buddy sidekick, which alternates between Wagner’s Taggert and Hill’s Albert, is a weisenheimer and doggedly continues his pursuit even when his life is at risk. I would absolutely say that some seeds for the buddy cop movie are sown here. Because of that, I wanted to see some suspense built in key sequences that ultimately fell flat; I’m thinking in particular of the sequence where Harper escapes from Puddler. We are shown Puddler reacting to Harper stumbling around, we are shown Harper alone and then Puddler entering the shot to chase him. Harper would then get away just before he would again make enough noise for Puddler to know where he’s at. Rinse and repeat until Puddler meets his end. That sequence would have played better had it been constructed with a Hitchcockian eye towards suspense. I also felt that way about the sequence when Taggert shot at the car, when Harper went to the mountain for his confrontation with the cat running the immigrant scheme (his name escapes me) and when Harper was on the ship looking for Sampson. They just fell flat. Additionally, I don’t think the movie worked hard enough to keep its secrets. There were shots that were held too long on Taggert and Albert before Harper outed them, doing everything but inserting a title card that read “he’s a bad guy.” An attempt to make Felix a red herring was made early on but then dropped. That Paul Newman carried the thing just by being Paul Newman is beyond question (not that he phoned it in and played himself but that he built a role through his incredible skill). The guy has a screen presence that few can equal, and I’m glad I got to see a “new to me” Newman flick. I just wish it had been a little tighter.

  • June 3, 2008, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Great start, Quint. Keep it going.

    by Knuckleduster

    And honestly, noboby's going to mind if you skip a day or two. As long as we keep getting columns like this on a regular basis, I'm happy.<p> Harper's great. Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade is what made me wanna check it out.

  • June 3, 2008, 9:24 a.m. CST

    "Old Stick"--and another film..

    by Lerkst

    ---I grabbed this from the Library one rainy afternoon about a year ago. One of my favourite detective movies, and a great example of '60's' style. The one older thug who keeps saying 'how are ya, old stick"...great character, I've started using that line all the time. This may sound bizarre, but I challenge everyone to watch Harper, and then follow it with Big Lebowski. There are alot of similarities in theme and tone with both films. Just an observation; way to start on a high note, Quint

  • June 3, 2008, 11:22 a.m. CST

    Drowning Pool

    by Quint

    I have it watched and mostly written up. I'm flying back to Austin from LA late tonight, but have to check out of the hotel now for my business out here. If I can get to an internet connection before my flight I'll post it, if not look for it late tonight after I get back into Austin!

  • June 3, 2008, 12:36 p.m. CST

    Tough Pace

    by YakMalla

    Once again, Quint, thanks for this. Great idea, tho I wouldn't cry if you did one every 2-4 days or so. I can't afford 7-at-a-time at Netflix.<p>I'm about halfway through Harper. Funny how, in a dated-looking film, Newman looks timeless. He really does have star quality. Lauren Bacall is the only one who looks like she belongs on the screen with him. And even she is vamping it up. Newman looks comfortable anywhere.

  • June 3, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST

    Pretty Good Flick

    by gimba2323

    Quint - I said the same exact thing as the credits rolled - Paul Newman IS a REAL movie star. He carried this movie. I loved the bar scene when he was pretending to be whomever anyone wanted him to be - very funny. Maybe I'm slow (no maybe about it) but I found the story hard to follow... After the movie I kinda pieced it together - but I had trouble keeping the different people straight. My father and I watched this together - and when we first saw Robert Wagner at the pool I said "hey there is Kato Katlin!" Overall I think the story was totally average - but worth a look for Newman's performance.

  • June 3, 2008, 1:02 p.m. CST

    You've got a way of starting conversations that ends conversatio

    by brainstormchaser

  • June 3, 2008, 1:04 p.m. CST

    "You've got a way of starting conversations...

    by brainstormchaser

    ..that ends conversations." A very cool and fun flick. I remember the sexy Pamela Tiffin from the 1962 remake of State Fair but I'm going to have to check out some of her other work. Great ending too. Looking forward to "Drowning Pool".

  • June 3, 2008, 1:12 p.m. CST

    Well, if you're with Lovefilm....

    by jpdisco

    You're fucked as they don't have it yet. Oh well, back to the drawing board..

  • June 3, 2008, 8:13 p.m. CST

    I liked it

    by thefreeagents

    I just finished it and I liked it quite a bit. This is a great idea Quint and I hope the enthusiasm stays with you. I have the Drowning Pool on the queue. I'd like to know your interpretation of the ending as well. Plus, Rio Bravo is gonna blow you away dude.

  • June 3, 2008, 8:26 p.m. CST

    Harper, based on Lew Archer books by

    by crankyoldguy

    the very great, many decades gone now Ross MacDonald. Search out his detective novels, all fine stuff, truly. And so were the Harper films. I don't know if I need the whole Newman box set, but certainly would like to see Harper and Drowing Pools again The story goes Newman had it changed from Archer to Harper, believing "H" names lucky. Archer's name is an homage to the hardboiled detective master Dashiell Hammett: "Miles Archer" was the name of Sam Spade's murdered partner in The Maltese Falcon. More Archer (or Harper) films could and should be made as MacDonald wrote many novels featuring the detective.

  • June 3, 2008, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Great, classic dialogue...remember these..

    by darthliquidator

    Sheriff: I could get ugly about this... Harper: You ARE ugly Harper: Your husband keeps lousy bad as there is in L.A.....and that's as bad as there is. Harper: Keep the change Bartender: There is no change. Harper: Keep it anyway.

  • June 4, 2008, 7:33 a.m. CST

    One of my favorite Newman flicks...

    by Ned Pepper

    When I was a kid, I think I mainly dug it because Pamela Tiffin was so hot. But as I grew older, I also dug Newman's casual indifference to everyone and everything, the very definition of coolness. One of my favorite lines in the movie happens as he's playing dumb to Shelley Winters in a sleazy bar. She correctly guesses something, and he replies, "Wow, how'd you do that? You must be physic."

  • June 4, 2008, 7:41 a.m. CST

    Another good line from Harper...

    by Ned Pepper

    Someone asks Harper if he saw smokin' hot, bikini-clad Pamela Tiffin dancing by the pool as he walked into the house, and he replies, "That ugly, skinny kid? Yeah, we passed in the night."

  • June 4, 2008, 2:13 p.m. CST

    Harper, Archer, Newman, Yulin?!?!

    by dannyocean

    If you like the movie and the books, you should check out Harris Yulin's audio book dramatizations of "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Zebra Striped Hearse". Yulin, a very talented character actor (he was in films from "Night Moves" to "Stuart Saves His Family") adapted, directed and stars as Archer in these full cast dramatizations, packed with everyone from Ed Asner to Anthony Zerbe.

  • June 4, 2008, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Late, but...

    by YakMalla

    Just finished. The last four words spoken in the film are perfect.

  • July 5, 2008, 10:52 p.m. CST



  • April 22, 2009, 9:12 a.m. CST


    by orcus