The Drowning Pool is a strange sequel. Not only doesn’t it continue Harper‘s attempt to make PIs hip and modern (more hip than modern, actually), it’s also doesn’t seem like the same character. In Drowning Pool, Newman’s Harper is the standard 1970s Newman character. He’s sick of the world, but he can’t quite give up on it. And even though Drowning Pool has a familiar cast, it doesn’t have the Technocolor glow Harper did. When the film started, I noticed there was nothing going on for Newman in the film, it was all about his exploration of the events around him. It all works out beautifully in the end. It’s like a Chandler set in the modern day, without drawing attention to the time between the novel being written and the film being produced. It’s a rather simple mystery, the kind Hollywood made all the time in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and have always been the standard for mystery novels. (They’re too expensive for Hollywood to make any more and probably even in the 1970s… except Drowning Pool had Newman and he was the biggest or second biggest star in the world in the 1970s).
As a mystery, it’s not particularly surprising. Detective stories like this one–in that Chandler vein–aren’t so much about the surprising motive or the identity of the killer, but about the detective’s adventures forcing his way through the case. In The Drowning Pool, Newman’s surrounded by interesting people to interact with. The film’s got a number of great performances: Murray Hamilton’s fantastic as a crazy oil baron (crazy as in criminally insane, not ha ha funny crazy), Gail Strickland’s great as his wife, Andrew Robinson is good. The best performance–besides Newman, who’s perfect at this world weary thing–is Anthony Franciosa. His character goes through the most change and Franciosa just gets better throughout. Joanne Woodward’s good, though she seems like she belongs in a different movie, not just more serious, but one centered around her. The only bad performances are Melanie Griffith and Richard Jaeckel. Griffith’s limp, basically repeating her performance from Night Moves, only with more to do and she can’t handle it. Jaeckel’s just bad.
The Drowning Pool‘s greatest asset, however, is the production quality. Stuart Rosenberg’s got some amazing shots, one after the other–though I’m not thrilled by the editor–and the way Gordon Willis shoots Louisiana is something particularly special. Whoever did the sound design–maybe Hal Barns (it’s hard to tell from IMDb)–did an amazing job.
It all comes together very nicely. The Drowning Pool, as a mystery, isn’t rewarding in that sudden, rousing way. But a bunch of people who knew what they were doing put together a film and they did a pretty damn good job.
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Walter Hill, based on the novel by Ross Macdonald; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by John C. Howard; music by Michael Small; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Lawrence Turman and David Foster; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Paul Newman (Harper), Joanne Woodward (Iris Devereaux), Anthony Franciosa (Broussard), Murray Hamilton (Kilbourne), Gali Strickland (Mavis Kilbourne), Melanie Griffith (Schuyler Devereaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen), Richard Jaeckel (Franks), Paul Koslo (Candy), Andrew Robinson (Pat Reavis), Coral Browne (Olivia Devereaux), Richard Derr (James) and Helena Kallianiptes (Elaine Reavis).