Harper (The Moving Target) Reviews
Lew Harper is a private investigator in Los Angeles that is going through a divorce and has been hired for a unique case. A desperate wife and her step daughter contact him about their missing millionaire playboy husband/father. He was last seen making a call to Vegas from a local bar and Lew tracks down a man in Vegas who may be responsible. He tries to solve this case while also saving his marriage.
"This place is like the morgue."
Jack Smight, director of Midway, The Illustrated Man, Airport 1975, No Way to Treat a Lady, Fast Break, Double Indemnity, and The Third Man, delivers Harper. The storyline for this picture is very interesting though a bit spastic at times. The dialogue was good as was the acting. The cast includes Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, and Julie Harris.
"Can you believe something as rancid as her was once a baby?"
I came across this on Movies! and had to DVR it. This was entertaining and fun to watch unfold. I thought some scenes were clumsy and annoying, but Newman is always fun to watch in these types of roles (similar to The Sting). Newman has just had some better films in this genre which is why I couldn't recommend this over The Sting or Cincinnati Kid.
"Gemini are cold hearted."
"Harper" is a neo-noir made in the same mindset as the earlier mentioned "The Big Sleep". It is a sprawling mess of a detective movie we eventually give up on following. But, despite its increasing convulsions into the mind bending atrocities of what we call a plot twist, we can't help but be completely and utterly charmed by the postcard ready, noiry sprinklings of it all. Part of it has to do with Paul Newman, in his prime, giving Humphrey Bogart and Dick Powell a run for their money as a private dick who has long given up on caring about anything besides work. But the other part has to do with Jack Smight, who directs as though the plot isn't rough, as if nothing else matters besides sparkling conversation and memorable character bits.
Movies like "Harper" are so alluring to me because everything we've come to know about cinema seems to be flipped onto its back. We have a tendency to think that every "good" film we ever see should be cohesive and popcorn ready; we forget about the unfortunate celluloid wasters who have the personality of a confused teenager or a depressed intellect. But "Harper" is a good film in ways we aren't so usually ready to accept. It isn't good because it is cohesive or popcorn ready: it's good because it seems to resonate even in its most head-scratching moments. Look at the way the actors interact, the way the script allows them to go from mocking politeness to brutal cat talk in the snap of a sharply manicured finger. Irresistible, isn't it, how much an actor beguiled by their material can turn into a fascinating oddity of art museum quality.
There's a plot to be found here, but does it much matter? Newman portrays Lew Harper, a private eye so down on his luck that even alcohol couldn't temporarily fix his sorrows. His wife (Janet Leigh) is about to divorce him, he's sleeping in his office, and his business is so awful he can barely make ends meet. Don't be fooled by his handsome composure: underneath his smirk and befitting suits lies a deep hurt even he won't admit to himself. So thank God millionairess Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall) calls him up, offering large sums of money to locate her long gone husband, who is either off with another dame, or, heaven forbid, is in danger. It's been a long time since Harper undertook a case with such lurking complexities, but he takes the responsibility of ensuring Mr. Sampson's safety. What else is he to do?
Machinations arise: what should have been a fairly straightforward hide-and-seek assignment grows steadily deadly as it appears that Harper's target was involved in things way over his head. Aiding him are Sampson's voluptuous daughter (Pamela Tiffin) and her untrustworthy boyfriend (Robert Wagner). A number of connections (including Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Robert Webber, and Strother Martin) are deceptively interviewed and a number of double-crosses are made along the way - but, as it turns out, the truth can be found in the areas one originally wasn't going to consider.
I could tell you the guy behind Sampson's disappearance (an unexpected shock, certainly!), but I couldn't manage to explain the dot-to-dot intricacies of the relationships between all the other characters that pump intrigue into "Harper"'s plot. But I don't care. The film has too popping of a personality to talk down to, and in an era where films were transitioning from wholesome filth to dreaded hippiedom, it's impressive that "Harper" is at once modern and a throwback. Sometimes it feels timeless, in others an account of a lost era of Californian noir underbellies.
William Goldman's screenplay, as complicated as it is, is mostly lustrous, the dialogue written with such snap that it seems hard to find a line anything other than strictly hard-boiled. Not a problem. The actors all seem pleased with the material, even the ones (Shelley Winters, everybody) who have to ignore the self-loathing cool of their co-stars and play their roles melodramatically in order to make some sort of an impression. But the characterizations are seamless, with Goldman making such broad stereotypes as cult leaders, cooing femmes, has-been actresses, and junkie lounge singers seem straight out of a smoke lined detective novel.
"Harper" isn't perfect, but one shouldn't automatically expect perfection coming from a detective movie obviously inspired by the convoluted roughness of "The Big Sleep". One should expect inner workings interesting in themselves. Nothing is placed on the table for us to devour. "Harper" isn't that obvious. It would rather us really listen to the words the characters spout out at such a quick pace, notice how sly and clever its central character is. And for that, I can hardly bear finding much fault in it.
The genius in Bogey's performance was the fly-blown integrityâ??the sort of consumptive valorâ??he generated in slobs. Mr. Newman makes his detective more a smoothie on the order of James Bond and that isn't quite the characteristic for the self-condemned loser in this film.