After seeing Harper as part of the AFI Silver LA Modern series, me and my son watched Paul Newman’s follow-up turn as Ross McDonald’s P.I. in 1975’s The Drowning Pool. Lew Harper finds himself in New Orleans in the middle of a scandal involving an ex-love (Joanne Woodward), a sleazy oil man (Murray Hamilton) and a protective local police chief (Tony Franciosa). Newman again gives an infectious star turn as the cynical but funny private detective brought into to town by Woodward to get to the bottom of her being blackmailed. When Franciosa is impressed by his $150 per day plus expenses rate, Harper explains that it isn’t all that much when you work four days a year.
But the picture lacks too many elements that made its predecessor so good. New Orleans ain’t LA, and while there is a certain fish-out-of-water charm to Harper’s investigation, the setting feels off. The score is also very cheezy, alternating between musical interludes worthy of a Mannix or Barnaby Jones and an annoying symphonic riff of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”. Worse, Joanne Woodward’s Louisiana drawl is borrowed straight from The Long Hot Summer. She’s ridiculous in her theatrics and a terrible replacement for Janet Leigh as Harper’s love interest. Hamilton does his best to give his character some flavor, and an 18 year old Melanie Griffith is an alluring near-jail bait, but most everyone else is either histrionic or blah.
While Woodward is a step down, Griffith as the poisonous Lolita is a significant upgrade from Harper’s Pamela Tiffin.
And a reminder of the horrors of plastic surgery.