Drowning Pool, The (1975): Loose, Weak Sequel to Harper, Starring Paul Newman

Stuart Rosenberg directed The Drowning Pool, a neo-noir thriller, and a loose sequel to the far superior Harper, based on Ross Macdonald’s novel of the same name.

The novel, published in 1950, was one of the best mysteries of the year.

The film stars Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Anthony Franciosa, and is a

The movie’s setting was shifted from California to Louisiana.

Los Angeles-based private investigator Lew Harper flies to Louisiana to do a job for his ex-flame, Iris Devereaux. She believes the family’s ex-chauffeur is the person who is blackmailing her with the knowledge that she has cheated on her husband. The husband does not care, but his mother, Olivia Devereaux, is the family matriarch and runs the family estate with an iron, unforgiving grip.

Even before his investigation begins, Harper is propositioned in his motel room by a teenaged girl. He sends her away, but later he discovers that the teenager is Iris Devereaux’s daughter, Schuyler. Their meeting in the motel room brings Harper to the attention of police chief Broussard and the disagreeable Lieutenant Franks.

Harper is abducted by two hoods working for the oil magnate J.J. Kilbourne, who thinks Harper might be useful in his efforts to get ownership of some of Olivia Devereaux’s oil-rich properties, which she is content to maintain as bird sanctuaries. Harper is noncommittal towards Kilbourne, and the hoods return him to his car. On Harper’s return, he learns that the dead body of Olivia Devereaux has just been found and the police’s prime suspect is the ex-chauffeur.

Searching for the chauffeur, Harper is abducted again, by hoods working for a mysterious woman. He does not have any useful information for her and is released; he later finds out she is Mavis Kilbourne, the wife of the oil magnate. She is working behind her husband’s back trying to find an account book containing information of his illicit business dealings, which he is desperate to recover and would kill her over if he knew she had a hand in its disappearance.

Harper tracks down the chauffeur, Pat Reavis, and finds $10,000 in his possession; he believes Reavis was paid to kill Olivia. He makes Reavis drive at gunpoint. En route, Reavis denies involvement in blackmailing Iris and murdering Olivia, claiming he was only at the scene of the murder because he had been having an affair with Schuyler. However, he admits to having information that will yield a lot of money, and offers Harper a share of it if he will let him go. The car they are in is forced off the road by masked gunmen, who shoot Reavis dead but miss Harper, who wounds one of the gunmen. The next day he is informed by Broussard that, mysteriously, there was no report made to the police of any gunfight, but that Lt. Franks has been injured in a “hunting accident”.

Despite Iris’s pleading to give up on the case and go home, Harper continues investigating. He correctly deduces that Reavis came into possession of the missing account book and must have given it to a trusted girlfriend for safekeeping. Knowing that Franks was involved in the killing of Reavis, Harper ambushes Franks in his own home and forces him to admit that he does jobs for Kilbourne. When Harper later confronts Kilbourne with the information, the oil magnate admits to having hired Reavis, but insists it was only to spy on Olivia Devereaux, not to kill her. When Harper tells Kilbourne he knows about the missing account book, Kilbourne offers him a fortune for it, but Harper just walks away.

This leads to Kilbourne and his henchman kidnapping Harper and Mavis to find out where the notebook is, torturing them with fire hose in abandoned asylum. When Harper refuses to give up any information, Kilbourne leaves them overnight to suffer.

Harper uses their clothes to plug the drain, and he and Mavis flood the room in an attempt to reach the skylight. When the water is finally high enough, they find that they can’t break the window, and are near drowning when they are ironically saved by Kilbourne returning to torture them more. Harper gives Kilbourne’s gun to Mavis, asking her to watch him while Harper finds a phone to call for help. As Kilbourne brags to Harper that he has too much influence and that he’ll get away with it all, shots suddenly ring out. Harper returns to find Kilbourne dead, with Mavis admitting that “He’s right, he would’ve gotten away with it”.

Returning to the Devereaux estate, Harper finds that Iris has committed suicide in the night with a combination of sleeping pills and alcohol. Chief Broussard is also there, devastated. Broussard asks Harper, “Did she tell you about us?”, to which Harper replies, “She didn’t have to”. Harper confronts Schuyler in the bird sanctuary, where she has released all of Olivia’s birds into the wild. Harper lays out how Schuyler was behind the whole affair, and she insists that “they really did a job on” her father before admitting that she hated both her mother and her grandmother. Harper then reveals that Broussard has been listening the whole time. Broussard lets Schuyler go and lashes out at Harper, before breaking down in tears and confirming that he is Schuyler’s real father. Harper tells Broussard, “That’s YOUR kid out there. How are you gonna handle that?” before leaving.

Harper visits Reavis’ girlfriend, Gretchen, giving her $9200 (the $10,000 he confiscated from Reavis, minus the $800 in expenses he racked up during the case). He asks Gretchen to send the account book to “the biggest newspaper in New Orleans”. The film ends with Gretchen telling Harper, “you’re not such a tough guy.”

In 1966, Harper, a film based on Lew Archer, starred Paul Newman. The character of Archer was renamed “Harper” for the movie. It was based on a script by William Goldman, who then wrote a follow-up adaptation, based on The Chill, but that movie was never made.

When Hill became involved, Paul Newman was not attached to the film. Eventually, Newman agreed to star. By July 1974, Joanne Woodward had agreed to co-star and Lorenzo Semple had rewritten the script.

Jack Garfein was set to direct, but then Stuart Rosenberg approached Newman, claiming he was “desperate” for the job, so Newman chose Rosenberg.

Originally, the lead character was called “Dave Ryan, then just weeks before preproduction, it was decided that it was “foolish to make this change.

The film was shot in late 1974 in Lafayette and New Orleans. The melody to the hit song “Killing Me Softly with His Song” is heard in the background of several scenes.

A disappointment at the box office, the film earned rentals of $2.6 million, but it performed better in Italy, France, Spain, and South Africa, with worldwide rentals of $8 million.

Paul Newman as Lew Harper
Joanne Woodward as Iris Devereaux
Richard Derr as James Devereaux
Anthony Franciosa (as Tony Franciosa) as Chief Broussard
Murray Hamilton as J.J. Kilbourne
Gail Strickland as Mavis Kilbourne
Melanie Griffith as Schuyler Devereaux
Linda Haynes as Gretchen
Andre Trottier as Hydrotherapist
Richard Jaeckel as Lieutenant Franks
Paul Koslo as Candy
Joe Canutt as Glo
Andrew Robinson (credited as Andy Robinson) as Pat Reavis
Coral Browne as Olivia Devereaux
Helena Kallianiotes as Elaine Reavis