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Harper is a cynical private eye in the best tradition of Bogart. He even has Bogie's Baby hiring him to find her missing husband, getting involved along the way with an assortment of unsavory characters and an illegal-alien smuggling ring.
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. As Harper begins his investigation, he is often joined by one or two new sidekicks, Miranda, and/or Allan Taggert, Sampson's private pilot who was the last person to see him before his disappearance. Living on the Sampson estate, Allan is also Miranda's casual boyfriend who Harper coins "Beauty" because of his preppy good looks. They discover that Sampson has indeed been kidnapped as they receive a ransom note. As Harper follows leads, he ends up in the underbelly of Los Angeles society, which includes encounters with Betty Fraley, a junkie lounge singer, Fay Estabrook, an ex-movie ingénue now overweight alcoholic, and Claude, a religious cult leader. At each of Harper's stops, people seem to want to beat him up or worse kill him. The case takes a slight turn after they decide to pay the $500,000 ransom to see where it leads.
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".<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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).<br/><br/>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.
I mainly decided to try this film because it was recommended and the leading star was appealing, even with not much knowledge of the plot. Basically Mrs. Sampson (Lauren Bacall) has hired private eye detective Lew Harper (Paul Newman) to find her missing husband. As he searches for Mr. Sampson he meets all the people who may have been last to have seen him, all an assortment unsavoury characters. He also gets himself into some scrapes and difficult situations, and doesn't seem to be getting any closer to actually finding Mr. Samspon, in fact, in the end he doesn't. Also starring Julie Harris as Betty Fraley, Arthur Hill as Albert Graves, Janet Leigh as Susan Harper, Pamela Tiffin as Miranda Sampson, Robert Wagner as Allan Taggert, Robert Webber as Dwight Troy, Shelley Winters as Fay Estabrook, Harold Gould as Sheriff, Strother Martin as Claude and Roy Jenson as Puddler. Newman does a confident performance, the direction is pacey in moments, it is a detective thriller with some good moments. Very good!
MacDonald's novel–his first solo screenwriting credit–is full of rapid-fire dialogue but some of the characterizations are thin. Despite all the big names involved, Harper doesn't begin to approach the big leagues of hard-boiled detective films. Nonetheless, Newman gives a convincing performance.
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