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Ross Macdonald

Review: The Underground Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

While maintaining a properly modest reticence myself, I spent the commercial breaks—and part of the regular showtime—wondering who really should be the one to direct the film versions of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books. Altman has the southern California feel for the milieu, but—sometimes for good, sometimes ill—he can’t leave the original of anything intact enough to suit an admirer of the original. Besides, his acid-splashing approach to interpersonal relations runs counter to the concerned decency of Macdonald and his protagonist, a sort of well-meaning-English-teacher-with-an-edge private eye with memories of a long-ago world war and a marriage that failed. Huston? Yes, the Huston of today, the Huston of Fat City rather than The Maltese Falcon, the Huston who can now take his camera where a Lew Archer has to go without the sense of slumming that mars some of his best work (The Asphalt Jungle, for instance). Bogdanovich? Maybe, yes, if he can keep from quoting The Big Sleep (Hawks’s grey-and-grey soundstage world with sprinkler rain and Max Steiner thunder music and chauffeurs getting driven off piers on the wrong side of a town that has nothing to do with real space, isn’t Archer’s California, though it was certainly Bogart/Marlowe’s). Bogdanovich has the penchant for long-take, middle-distant contemplation that the styles of both novelist and detective call for.

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Review: The Drowning Pool

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

First Artists’ logo appears at the beginning of The Drowning Pool, and the first artist to think about most of the way through the film is Paul Newman, for whom the production has been conspicuously tailored even if the cut is ultimately unflattering. Newman scored a hit with—and by his own testimony “had a ball” making—Harper, the 1966 retooling of an early Lew Archer book (The Moving Target). If director Jack Smight and screenwriter William Goldman observably strained to maintain an illusion of wry deftness, they were still clever and remained rather ingratiating about the whole thing; and Newman, cracking wise with just the right degree of collegiate selfconsciousness, seemed like a dream older-brother. Newman is almost a decade older now and his Lew Harper has moved cinemagenically closer to the Lew Archer of later Ross Macdonald novels (although The Drowning Pool happens to be an early one). As Harper brought onscreen a divorced wife who was only mentioned in the novels, The Drowning Pool has been adjusted so that the lady who calls the private eye to come to her assistance in Louisiana bayou country (a location change from the Southern California of the books, doubtlessly for the sake of fresh scenic resources) is the same slightly fading flower who shared a cozy week with him while vacationing in his territory some years earlier. Aside from permitting the husband-and-wife team of Newman-Woodward a screen relationship more satisfying to their fans, and lending new kinkiness to the play the lady’s adolescent daughter makes for Harper, the alteration serves no good purpose.

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