Even though Harper is considered by many critics to be the most mature detective story until Chinatown came along, it's not nearly as well known. I hadn't really heard much about it and I only decided to record it because of its two stars: Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall, the undeclared winners of the superlative “Best Eyes” category in Hollywood's yearbook, 1960s edition.
Both are in top form. Bacall as a wicked step mother who hires P. I. Lew Harper to find her husband and whoever he might be sleeping with,?not to gather information for a divorce (she doesn't want a divorce, she just wants to out live him), but to make sure his estate remains intact. Newman, playing the detective, just wants his wife (played by an oddly old looking Janet Leigh) back.
But he's just too committed to the case, and he solves it almost too well using a combination of handsome charisma, Tennessee Williams accents, a cool and collected temper, and brown suits.
Harper is full of the clever, quippy dialog and colorful oddball characters that make up any respectable noir; only instead of traditional stark black and whites, the zany '60s sets (often of divey bars, mansion halls, and one weirdo temple) are gloriously of their time–there are also a number of lovely dresses and a perfect trench coat to keep an eye out for.
It's a detective story with a sly sense of humor and a classic cast to play those weirdo characters. Shelly Winters, who I always love, is the former movie star whose become an overweight booze hound, Robert Wagner smacks brilliantly of gosh darn good looking lay aboutism, and Arthur Hill is pretty awesome as Newman's best friend.
It does slow down at times. I'm no fan of chase scenes in general, but when they're either slow moving car chases inter-cut with green screen close ups, or foot chases through alleys too dark to see anything, I'd just rather go to sleep. Still, chase scenes aside, this is a solid picture with great performances; definitely one worth discovering.