Harper is a contemporary mystery-comedy with Paul Newman as a sardonic private eye involved in a missing person trackdown. Some excellent directorial touches and solid thesping are evident in the colorful and plush production. Abundance of comedy and sometimes extraneous emphasis on cameo characters make for a relaxed pace and imbalanced concept, resulting in overlength and telegraphing of climax.
Ross MacDonald’s novel, The Moving Target, has Newman commissioned by Lauren Bacall to find her hubby (never seen until climax), although she has no love for either him or step-daughter Pamela Tiffin.
Complications include the spoiled Tiffin, casual companion of family pilot Robert Wagner, himself hung up on Julie Harris, a piano bar entertainer also a junkie. Shelley Winters is the aging actress failure who has known the missing man, and is married to Robert Webber, brains behind a wetback smuggling ring run by religious nut Strother Martin.
Director Jack Smight has inserted countless touches which illuminate each character to the highest degree. In this he complements William Goldman’s sharp and often salty lingo. All principals acquit themselves admirably, including Newman, Bacall, Webber, and particularly Winters, who makes every second count as the once-aspiring film star now on the high-calorie sauce.