Saturday, 17 April 2010

'I used to be a sheriff until I passed my literacy test. '

Dir. Jack Smight
(Warner Bros. 1966)

Harper, Newman is a private eye detective. In interviews Newman is quoted as saying he regarded, Lew Haper, as 'pretty close to me. I didn't have to do a lot of work for that.' The man never appears to work on screen, and there's no need; he oozes class. Yes, the famous opening credits, as Newman gets ready for work and re-uses the coffee filter – immediately makes Newman's character likable – we're on his side – he re-uses coffee filters – just like us....The opening is one of the few highlights of the writing, Goldman's script feels heavy and well very 'shagadelic baby', watching this is an education in what America was like in the '60's: Diners, beaten up old gas stations, and lots of road. The plot is a kidnapping in a rich family, it's all standard fare when it comes to hiring a private detective. The chase scenes seem remarkably wooden, Newman gagged by a BFG henchman escapes, 3 minutes of chase and then Newman dodges this meat-head on top of a high platform in a ship yard and he falls to his death, it's too easy – where's the struggle? Ship yards, and other interesting landscapes, usually with machinery give a lot of pretty frames; symmetry and composition is first class with Newman on the run, photography is courtesy of Conrad L. Hall

Harper's relationship with his ex-wife, Janet Leigh is brilliant, chastising her with phone calls and general all round-misogynist behaviour. Newman preys on her late one night, and has his way with her, in the morning he discards her and the fry up she's cooked, this leads Leigh to break the yokes in the eggs she's frying – a wonderful metaphor for Leigh's fertility. True to form, Stroher Martin pops up in the film, Stoher Martin is always in a Newman film, he heads up a cult as a cover for illegal immigrants and it's endemic of Harper's frazzled plot. Goldman and Newman go onto bigger and better things.

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