Harper Blu-ray Review
"You have a way of starting conversations that ends conversations."
Harper Film Review
Paul Newman's 1966 mystery noir introduced the world to his titular Harper, one of only two characters he would return to in his career.Paying tribute to all those 30s crime novels by the likes of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and their 40s cinematic counterparts, often envisaged by Humphrey Bogart, Director Jack Smight's 1966 thriller Harper was the first of two Newman-starring adaptations of the books of Ross MacDonald (this one being the first novel in the series - The Moving Target) featuring the author's most famous character, Lew Archer, here renamed Lew Harper.
The story follows the latest case for Harper, a soon-to-be-divorced, down-on-his-luck private detective (is there any other kind?) who gets embroiled in a missing person's case which soon turns complicated when his target comes up for ransom. Throw in a young femme fatale, an embittered old starlet, a religious cult and a whole bunch of people who - violently - don't want Harper to get to the truth, and the end result is one very long week for this private detective.
A soft precursor to the likes of Altman's The Long Goodbye and later Polanski's genre-defining Chinatown
The 60s were an interesting time for thrillers, particularly of a noir and neo-noir inclination, graduating from the more conventional mood and style of those classic Bogart progenitors and enjoying the more free-wheeling flavour of the decade, whilst, particularly as the years went on, heading towards the more cynical post-Kennedy, Vietnam, Nixon, then Nixon-Watergate period. The late 60s saw the likes of Melville's iconic Le Samourai and Boorman's Point Blank emerge to redefine the genre, seeing 1969's Marlowe prove to be a relatively mundane Chandler adaptation in the wake of this revolution, and the private eye-themed mysteries in some need of a reboot (which occurred, to some extent, in Altman's vastly underrated 1973 adaptation of The Long Goodbye).
Harper escaped largely unscathed partly through timing and partly through casting - although the same cannot necessarily be said for its sequel, at least at the time - with the 1966 release still capturing the fresher 60s vibe, but the darker themes of treachery and corruption (the police here are utterly inept, but there's certainly also some implied corruption, and the religious cult are an empty shell front for far worse) allowed it some enduring relevance, playing out as a soft precursor - and indeed very similar story - to the likes of The Long Goodbye (and later Polanski's genre-defining Chinatown as well as, more recently the real anti-noir, Under the Silver Lake).
Whilst Director Jack Smight would not necessarily be fondly remembered for his work here, star power prevailed, with Newman rallying the troops behind the scenes and capturing attention on the screen, enjoying his charmingly cynical playboy private detective role - whose relaxed attitude belied a darker history with the LAPD as well as some decent investigative skills - and all the more for playing off the likes of Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh and Julie Harris. Although not quite as memorable as some of the genre's classics, there are some great lines, with screenwriter William Goldman later going on to win an Oscar for another Newman vehicle, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the thriller remains a nice little mystery noir entry in Newman's long career.
Harper Blu-ray PictureWarner previously released Harper in 2018 on US (Region Free) Blu-ray as part of their Archive Collection, which is slowly dribbling its way through to HMV's exclusive Warner collection, prettified with a slipcase and art cards, as well as a DVD copy, but otherwise an exact port of the same Blu-ray disc. Thankfully it's a winner.
A largely excellent and veritably demo presentation, with the film, now well into its 50s, looking superb
Detail is excellent throughout, with the gorgeously lensed feature revelling in its colourful environments, beautifully framed shots, lavish exteriors and surprisingly expansive open vistas. Skin textures gets some amount of reveal beyond the thick swathes of makeup, clothing weaves are finely picked up on, and the trappings of the mansions and apartments - at opposite ends of the spectrum, but equally appointed in different respects. The LA landscape is captured in some particularly unusual locations (the hilltop cult temple being the prime example) with a few aerial shots ratcheting up the commensurate grain but still delivering impressive renditions of the broader panoramas. Black levels are strong enough, rounding out a largely excellent and veritably demo presentation, with the film, now well into its 50s, looking superb.
Harper Blu-ray SoundA very good aural accompaniment
The accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track also does a largely impressive job with the original audio, cleaning it up nicely with no noticeable tinniness, or crackle, leaving dialogue rendered clearly and coherently throughout and a few nice effects - echoey gunshots a staple of the era, but also thrumming (Porsche) car engines, slapping body blows and smashing glass - peppered across the duration. The score adds mood and atmosphere to the proceedings and despite being an innately front-dominated affair, it's a very faithful and very good aural accompaniment.
Harper Blu-ray ExtrasSolid extras
Although hardly brimming with extras, after you've listened to Screenwriter William Goldman's audio commentary you may not feel the need to have any further background detail; it's a great track. Despite having not seen the film for decades, Goldman proceeds to unravel a veritable smorgasbord of background trivia, which encompass everything from the production and locations to Newman's nuances and domination on set, as well as, of course, the source material and what he did to adapt it (retaining many of the best lines from the book). It's a worthwhile listen and the solid extras are completed with a Theatrical Trailer, whilst the package further includes the aforementioned hard slip cover and art cards, as well as a DVD copy of the film.
Harper Blu-ray Verdict
A nice little mystery noir entry in Newman's long career
Whatever the woes of HMV, they appear to be still drip-feeding classic titles from the US Warner Archive Collection, with this direct port of Warner's 2018 Harper release getting the collector's treatment at least in terms of packaging. For Newman fans who haven't gotten around to importing the US Region Free disc, it's landed straight in HMV's 2 for £15 sale, but you'll have to find a store if you want to pick it up.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.99
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