THE DROWNING POOL is a decent private eye entry from 1975, bringing Paul Newman back nine years after the well-received 1966 Harper, this time taking the tough but fair investigator from his home turf of Los Angeles and shifting his case chase to New Orleans. Thanks mostly to its likable protagonist and some good supporting players, it passes muster, jostling for audience attention in a year stuffed with lawbreakers and rule-bending justice servers. *
A former flame summons ‘Lew Harper’ (Newman, 49) to New Orleans to solve a blackmail situation that will upset her position in a well-off family with already off-the-rail dynamics—ever see a private eye movie involving a family where the outfit wasn’t screwed up? Outsiders of several stripes make known their keen interest in the family, to Harper’s increasing discomfort.
Walter Hill adapted Ross Macdonald’s 1950 novel, his second featuring his signature sleuth. Lorenzo Temple Jr. rewrote Hill’s material, then Tracy Keenan Wynn re-did Temple’s. All three got credit, with un-credited Eric Roth then doing further polishing. Stuart Rosenberg directed. In that capacity Rosenberg was hit & miss, his resume bearing one classic, several pretty good items and a number of duds. With Newman, he’d nailed Cool Hand Luke, then badly fumbled the star’s WUSA and Pocket Money (with help from lousy scripts). As a favor, Newman saw to it he got a chance to redress the flops with this assignment.
The story is only mildly interesting, the dialogue better than the plot, and there’s little action: the cast is the strong point. Newman’s his usual solid, charming self, a cool blend of shrewd, self-effacing confidence. In the gumbo are Joanne Woodward (the blackmailed ex-lover), Anthony Franciosa (as the local police chief: along with Across 110th Street, his best latter-career role), Murray Hamilton (scuzzy oil man—name one who isn’t?), Richard Jaeckel (on the nose as a nasty cop) and 17-year-old newcomer Melanie Griffith (the precocious daughter—all daughters of families on detective movies are on the wanton side, which, if you’re a private eye, is really kind of a perk). Additional color is provided by Lynda Haynes, Gail Strickland, Andy Robinson, Paul Koslo, Coral Browne, Helena Kallianiotes and Leigh French.
Okay music score by Michael Small, with additional work done by Charles Fox, slipping in pieces of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” his #1 hit from a few years earlier. Made for $2,700,000, it grossed $7,900,000 in the States (52nd in the herd), but did somewhat better abroad. 108 minutes.
* ’75 was drowning in a pool of crime flicks: Dog Day Afternoon, Three Days Of The Condor, Hustle, French Connection II, Farewell My Lovely, Night Moves, The Killer Elite, Report To The Commissioner, Crazy Mama, Mr.Ricco, Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold, Friday Foster, Sheba Baby, Lepke, Brannigan, Capone….