Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Unseen #32: The Drowning Pool

Why’d I Buy It?: Came with the Paul Newman Boxset I purchased.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Has a reputation of being a lack luster sequel. Also it inspired the name of one of the worst Nu Metal bands, thus by extentsion worst bands ever, which is a tough stigma for any film to overcome.

How Was It?: Pretty much as its reputation has it. The belated (by nine years) sequel to Harper, finds its protagonist older, but not much wiser exploring shenanigans in the deep south. Harper is a pretty great little movie. Its one of the few great color noirs, with a cast to die for, including Janet Leigh in one of her best performances, Shelley Winters in one of the few roles I can stand her in, and a glorious Lauren Bacall playing an utter bitch Godess.

The problem is that its appeal is so tied into its location. Like similar great color noir Point Blank, Harper is a fantastic LA film, capturing the seductive tone of the city, shot by the great Conrad Hall in dusky sinuous palate. So when you remove the setting, which gave the movie its uniqueness, and Janet Leigh who gave the film its heart, and Conrad Hall, who gave the movie its look (he’s replaced by Gordon Willis, which isn’t exactly trading down, but who gets little opportunity to exercise his signature “Prince Of Darkness” aside from a few scenes) what are you left with? Not much.

Now don’t get me wrong, The Drowning Pool is a movie that is devoted entirely to Paul Newman fucking with crackers, there’s no way that doesn’t have some intrinsic entertainment value. Newman himself is charming as hell as always, even if he does seem to be coasting a bit in this one. And in all fairness the movie has a handful of great scenes. Including a bit where Newman interrogates a local gangster at his kennel, where said gangster happens to be training a pack of vicious pitbulls for dog fighting. Rosenberg keeps them and their sometimes bizarre training techniques in the background of nearly ever shot, which livens up the mise en scene considerably and adds a fair amount of tension to an otherwise standard bit of exposition. Then there’s an eerie roadside execution shot at night, with the assassins wearing creepy non descript party store masks, and Gordon Willis getting to cut loose for his one time in the film. But the film on the whole doesn’t hold together.

The cast has some bright spots, including Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward, with whom Newman always had chemistry, and Melanie Griffith in her slutty tomcat days, basically reprising her role in Night Moves to much lesser effect. Stuart Rosenberg, who Newman always had a report directs ably if not well. Drowning Pool isn’t a bad movie per se. I wouldn’t call it a waste of time or discourage anyone else from seeing it. Its just with so much better work from all involved so readily available, its kind of hard to see the point. It’s the very definition of a cinematic B side.


Gideon Strumpet said...

Nice write up. I've long wanted to see this movie. I'm a huge fan of Ross MacDonald and Harper and the Drowning Pool are based on The Moving Target and The Drowning Pool, the first two of MacDonald's classic Lew Archer novels. In fact, the reason the character is Lew Harper instead of Archer is because Newman, who had hits with The Hustler, Hud, and Hombre, wanted another 'H' titled film.

Bryce Wilson said...

Huh I'd heard that story before but I didn't know that the series was so extensive.

Are the others worth reading?