Gumshod

THE DROWNING POOL — 1975 — so it took them nine years to make a sequel to HARPER — I think that officially qualifies as belated. This time the director is Stuart Rosenberg who also did COOL HAND LUKE which I have some fond memories of. Maybe it was the first film I saw as a kid with a downbeat ending. I was fired up with the injutice of it!

Not so much to get fired up about here. Newman is introduced having seatbelt trouble with his rental care, another bit of “relatable” humour to get us on his side. The script is credited to three guys, Walter Hill, Lorenzo Semple Jr and Tracy Keenan Wynn, so I was disappointed that it wasn’t a cross between ALIEN, FLASH GORDON and THE LONGEST YARD. Maybe as a result of its patchwork authorship, the film moves a little disjointedly, with scenes fizzling out or lurching into new locations in wats that seem disorienting in unintended ways.

Always nice to see Andy Robinson

Gordon Willis, Prince of Darkness, shot this one so it has a super-gloomy look, more modernist than its glossy predecessor. I found myself preferring Conrad Hall’s work, by a hair. Willis is pushing what the film stock can do, resulting in those milky blacks I never warmed to. (I recall Julia Phillips’ triumph, in her score-settling memoir, when she found a cinematographer who disapproved of Vilmos Zsigmond’s stock-pushing — “If you have good film stock, why would you do that?” But look at the work those guys did, at their best! They more than satisfied Howard Hawks requirements — provide a couple of great scenes and your allowed a few ordinary ones and one bad one.)

My favourite performer in it was Murray Hamilton as a demented bad guy — his attempt at water torture, hosing Newman down in a disused asylum, leads to the film’s titular highlight, as Newman and his fellow prisoner attempt to escape by flooding the room so they can float out the skylight… which then refuses to break open, threatening them with drowning. It’s very exciting and well staged and I like the logic of it. Fritz Lang would have recognised it.

HARPER starred Butch Cassidy; Vivian Rutledge; Eleanor Vance; Charlotte Haze; Dr. Jeremy Stone; Dr. Carl Stoner; Marion Crane; Scarlett Hazeltine; Number Two; Juror Twelve; Kid Twist; and Mulvihill.

THE DROWNING POOL stars Butch Cassidy; Beatrice Hunsdorfer; Polo Pope; Mr. Robinson; Dorcas Trilling; Charlotte Haze (II); Linda Forchet; Chuck Jefferson; the Scorpio killer; and Mercy Croft.

10 Responses to “Gumshod”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    The 9 year gap is indeed very odd. Usually a sequel to a hit appears after 2 years. I suspect Newman’s availability is the culprit. He was such a busy deity.

  2. Looks like this has excellent widescreen camerawork. Regarding Zsigmond: What exactly does preflashing film stock do? I know The Long Goodbye has preflashing, and it has a unique look I can’t put my finger on. Can an exoert enlighten me?

  3. I’m no expert. but the idea is to expose the film to a very low level of light before using it. This desaturates the colour and lowers the contrast.

    Zsigmond and Willis would also shoot in very low light, overexposing the film to try to pull detail out of the murk, resulting in increased grain, low contrast and soft, milky shadows.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    To me this is all an effort to compensate for the fact that the film is shot in color rather than black and white — which is far more visually appropriate to the subject matter. The one filmmaker who knows how to do this effectively is Jean-Pierre Melville.

  5. If you can control colour via design, as Melville does, you can create a kind of b&w-in-colour. Not really an option in the lush southern scenery here.

    But whether it’s that, or desturation, it’s still a completely different effect from true b&w. If something is best shot in b&w, then that’s the only option, and it’s a real shame that’s been largely removed from the pallette of commercial cinema.

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Phillipe Garrel still shoots in black and white. Quite spectacularly —

  7. LOVE that song.

  8. Matthew Clark Says:

    There is an unofficial third Harper film starring Paul Newman, the 1998 “Twilight”. Newman plays a retire PI who gets caught up in an old case. The original script is by Robert Benton, and though not based on a Ross MacDonald story, it still nicely captures the mood of the Archer novels. Also, a strong all star cast backing up Newman in one of his last good films.

  9. I picked up a copy of this in a Bo’ness charity shop, but predictably haven’t gotten round to it. Now may be the time!

  10. “To me this is all an effort to compensate for the fact that the film is shot in color rather than black and white”

    Aleksei German maintained that the trouble with films was that sound was invented a hundred years too soon and colour two hundred years too soon.

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