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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

'The Drowning Pool' Blu-ray: Newman as L.A. Detective Harper in Big Easy to Deal with Hard Cases

The Warner Archive February 27, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1975 mystery "The Drowning Pool" with Paul Newman coincides with the Archive BD release of the (soon-to-be-reviewed) 1966 film "Harper," which introduces Newman in the role of Lew Harper that is an homage to Sam Spade by novelist Ross MacDonald. Both Harper films honor classic Golden Age noir that includes the recent (reviewed) Archive DVD of the 1942 film "Murder in the Big House." Additionally, Archive does a superb job remastering this 43 year-old film.

The following YouTube clip of the "Pool" theatrical trailer highlights the '70s grit and humor of this classic.

"Pool" opens on a perfect note; the big honking sign for the New Orleans airport immediately establishes the setting. Harper wearing a cheap suit and getting hilarious frustrated at efforts to first satisfy and then thwart the requirements of the seat belt system in his crappy rental car tell us a great deal about the character in roughly one minute without a single syllable of dialog.

The characterization of the cheap detective (who is compensated at the rate of $150/day plus expenses) continues with his checking into a hot-sheets motel. Rejecting the assertive advances of the slutty (presumably pro) underage teenage (Melanie Griffith in her second feature role) that he finds on his bed on coming out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist establishes that Harper lives by the same code as the scores of cinematic rumpled private dicks that precede him. This also provides context for one of the best lines of dialog in the film; Harper essentially states that he does not want to celebrate the Bicentennial in a jail cell.

The New Orleans style grit amps up another notch as local cop Broussard (Tony Franciosa) commences his hate-hate relationship with our hero by trying to arrest him for statutory rape as he leaves his hotel room.

The action tuns fully Southern Gothic on Harper driving the aforementioned beater to the estate of current client/former lover Iris Devereaux (Newman real-life spouse and frequent co-star Joanne Woodward). She summons her white knight in response to an effort to inform her husband in her marriage of mutual convenience about her straying from the martial bed.

The prime suspect is recently discharged chauffeur Pat Reavis. The basis for this firing is the interest of this man in driving teen daughter Schuyler Devereaux on some of her many trips around the block. Of course, the initial evidence supports the theory regarding the guilt of Reavis.

This trip to the modern equivalent of Tara also involves Harper meeting family matriarch Olivia Devereaux who owns that pile of bricks and does her best to keep son James and her daughter-in-law Iris in line.

This snooping further earns Harper the privilege of a command appearance before stock character redneck local oilman/pit bull trainer J.J. Kilbourne (character actor Murray Hamilton). The figurative horse that Kilbourne has in the race is intense frustration regarding the repeated refusal of Olivia to sell what this Cajun J.R. Ewing is convinced is oil-rich land.

The subsequent bludgeoning of Olivia complete with evidence that points to Reavis further thickens the jumbo in this tale.

"Pool" remains true to its roots as the investigation of Harper uncovers increasing proof that all the relevant events are related and that not even the cops can be trusted. In other words, one man's hunting accident is another man's wound inflicted in self defense.

The title refers to the climax in which our hero and an innocent are left to soak overnight as a cure for what ails their common foe. This leads to great suspense as a daring escape seems destined to epicly fail.

The final scenes wrap up every loose end, reinforce cynicism regarding human nature, and particularly proves that teens are quick to pick your pocket and seek retribution for imagined wrongs.

The Blu-ray bonuses consist of the theatrical trailer and a fun "Harper Days Are Here Again" short that is filmed at the time of making "Pool."

Anyone with questions or comments about "Pool" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

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