Harper Blu-ray Review

Excellent Private Eye film with a beautiful transfer 4.5 Stars

Ross MacDonald’s hard-boiled private eye Lew Archer made his big screen debut (albeit with his last name changed) in Harper, adapted from MacDonald’s 1949 novel “The Moving Target.” The film features a superlative cast headed by Paul Newman, an excellent script by William Goldman, and wonderful cinematography by Conrad Hall. Harper is now available on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer from the Warner Archive.

Harper (1966)
Released: 09 Apr 1966
Rated: NOT RATED
Runtime: 121 min
Director: Jack Smight
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Cast: Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill
Writer(s): William Goldman (screenplay), Ross Macdonald (novel)
Plot: Lew Harper, a cool private investigator, is hired by a wealthy California matron to locate her kidnapped husband.
IMDB rating: 7.0
MetaScore: 51

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 1 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Standard Blu-ray Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 02/27/2018
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4.5/5

Your husband keeps lousy company, Mrs. Sampson. As bad as there is in L.A., and that’s as bad as there is. – Lew Harper

Ross MacDonald’s hard-boiled private eye Lew Archer made his big screen debut (albeit with his last name changed) in Harper, adapted from MacDonald’s 1949 novel “The Moving Target.” The film features a superlative cast headed by Paul Newman, an excellent script by William Goldman, and wonderful cinematography by Conrad Hall. Harper is now available on Blu-ray with a gorgeous transfer from the Warner Archive.

We are introduced to Lew Harper (Paul Newman) during the dialogue-free opening credits sequence. He is asleep in his underwear on a sofa bed in his office, with an ashtray full of cigarette butts on the arm rest. He is awakened by his alarm clock, and he gets up and turns off his television set, which he left on all night. In the bathroom he dumps a tray of ice cubes into the sink, turns on the faucet, and then sticks his face into the sink to wake himself up. He tries to brew a fresh cup of coffee but discovers that he is out of coffee grinds, so he fishes yesterday’s grinds out of the trash. He gets dressed and grimaces in disgust when he tastes the coffee. He puts on his shoulder holster under suit jacket and steps out into the hallway of his office building, where he stops to pop a stick of gum into his mouth. Harper then takes his convertible, a Porsche 356 Speedster, onto the freeway to see a new client in the fictitious town of Santa Theresa. In a little over four minutes we have already gotten to know the title character, and we like what we see.

Harper’s client is Mrs. Sampson (Lauren Bacall). She says that her wealthy but wayward husband is missing. Mr. Sampson arrived at the Van Nuys airport in his private plane the day before but was missing when his pilot, Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), got to the terminal after tying down the plane in the hangar. Mrs. Sampson, who is paralyzed from an accident when she fell from a horse, has nothing but contempt for her husband but nevertheless wants him found. Harper was recommended for the job by an old friend, Albert Graves (Arthur Hill), who also happens to be Sampson’s attorney. While at the mansion Harper meets Taggert, who lives in a guest house on the grounds, and Sampson’s flirtatious daughter Miranda, Pamela Tiffin (the sight of the lovely Tiffin dancing on a diving board in a bikini is worth the price of admission).

During the course of his investigation Harper has encounters with a junkie jazz singer, Betty Fraley (Julie Harris); Fay Estabrook (Shelly Winters), a washed-up former movie star who drinks excessively; Fay’s husband, Dwight Troy (Robert Webber), a shady operator who has had dealings with Sampson in the past; and a religious cult leader named Claude (Strother Martin) who is building a temple on a mountain top donated to him by Sampson. Harper’s life is complicated by the fact that he is still in love with his wife, Susan (Janet Leigh), who is divorcing him. Things get murkier when the missing person case turns into a kidnapping.

Harper is a complex mystery with more than a few suspects, but the film plays it fairly. Without giving anything away, I will just point out that there is a significant clue relatively early in the film, but it is subtle and I expect that most viewers will miss it. The film benefits from good direction by Jack Smight and a witty screenplay by William Goldman. Paul Newman is excellent as the private eye, and the supporting cast is, as noted, top-notch.

Paul Newman would return as Lew Harper nine years later in The Drowning Pool, also available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. A full review will be available soon.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Harper has come to Blu-ray with a flawless transfer by the Warner Archive. The film is properly framed at 2.35:1 and is delivered in 1080p via the AVC codec. The image is sharp throughout, colors are accurate, contrast and shadow detail are excellent, and a natural level of film grain has been retained. The cinematography is by the great Conrad Hall.

Our resident expert, Robert A. Harris, is effusive in his praise for this Blu-ray:

A few words about…™ Harper — in Blu-ray

The most striking location in the film is Moonfire Temple, high on a mountaintop northwest of Santa Monica that reportedly was built for the film. You can see more of it here:

Moonfire Ranch

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS HD-MA 2.0 audio is excellent, with crystal-clear dialogue and a score by Johnny Mandel that is reproduced with perfect fidelity.

English SDH subtitles are available.

Special Features: 2.5/5

The extras on this Blu-ray disc consist of the film’s theatrical trailer, in which several of the stars of the film talk directly to the audience, and an interesting commentary track by William Goldman. The screenwriter understandably has more to say about the plot and dialogue than the film’s production.

Overall: 4.5/5

Harper is a highly enjoyable private eye film with an intriguing plot, excellent acting, and gorgeous cinematography. Readers interested in purchasing it can find it at the Warner Archive website and at Amazon.

Published by

Richard Gallagher

editor,member,author

13 Comments

  1. There is something about this movie that just takes me in somehow and I feel like I am in their world. I find the sets so interesting and detailed. As noted all of the supporting actors are just perfect and mostly stars in their own right. Shelley Winters is over the top but absolutely, delightfully, tragically believable. For me, this is what going to the movies is about – being immersed in another world and taken on a journey. I watched the blu this past weekend and loved every second of it.

  2. Rick Thompson

    It's Robert Wagner, not Robert Walker, who plays Taggert.

    Will Krupp

    Don't feel bad, over at blu-ray.com THEY'VE got Harper's ex-wife played by "Vivian" (sic) Leigh rather than Janet! 😆

    It happens! Sometimes you just braincramp and don't notice your goof when you proofread.

    I know I've occasionally used the wrong actor's name in my reviews!

  3. KPmusmag

    There is something about this movie that just takes me in somehow and I feel like I am in their world. I find the sets so interesting and detailed. As noted all of the supporting actors are just perfect and mostly stars in their own right. Shelley Winters is over the top but absolutely, delightfully, tragically believable. For me, this is what going to the movies is about – being immersed in another world and taken on a journey. I watched the blu this past weekend and loved every second of it.

    Pretty much my view. Despite the sunny California locations & the witty dialogue & the beautiful people smiling, it's a dark & twisted tale, no one is really happy (except maybe the super cynical Lauren Bacall character), a real sixties film noir.

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