Monday, August 7, 2023

The Deadly Affair and Harper

James Mason as Charles Dobbs.
The Deadly Affair (1967). James Mason stars as Charles Dobbs--a renamed George Smiley--in Sidney Lumet's moderately successful adaptation of John Le Carre's novel Call for the Dead. The plot is more mystery than espionage as Dobbs tries to discover whether a diplomat (recently cleared of spying) committed suicide or was murdered. While the authorities are content with an explanation of suicide, Dobbs can't rationalize why the dead man requested a wake-up call the night of his death. Director Lumet creates a visually compelling tapestry filled with dark rainy days and shadowy characters. Mason makes a respectable Dobbs/Smiley, but Harry Andrews almost steals the film as a recently retired police detective concerned only with the facts (he falls asleep whenever Dobbs starts to speculate). Simone Signoret is also fabulous as the dead man's widow, a Holocaust survivor whose political allegiances are less murky than they appear. A subplot involving Dobbs' serially unfaithful wife Ann was added for the film. Interestingly, it foreshadows a critical plotline in Le Carre's later Smiley novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. You can currently stream The Deadly Affair on Rumble for free by clicking here.

Newman as Lew Harper.
Harper (1966).  George Smiley wasn't the only 1960s protagonist to undergo a name change en route from novel to film. Ross Macdonald's private eye Lew Archer became Lew Harper when Paul Newman agreed to star in an adaptation of the novel The Moving Target. Allegedly, Newman requested the name change because of his previous success in films with titles starting with "h" (e.g., The Hustler, Hud). Harper is a slick, star-infused mystery that finds the titular detective searching for a missing millionaire at the bequest of the man's bitter wife (Lauren Bacall). The case quickly turns into a kidnapping and pretty soon dead bodies start appearing. Newman is well-cast as the cynical, gum-chewing private eye intent on pursuing every possible lead. Screenwriter William Goldman provides Harper with an estranged wife (Janet Leigh), perhaps in an attempt to give Harper a backstory. It doesn't add much, though, as Lew Harper serves mainly to guide the audience through the labyrinthian plot. What elevates Harper are the splashy locales in and around sun-drenched Los Angeles and the star-packed supporting cast that includes Bacall, Leigh, Robert Wagner, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Pamela Tiffin, Arthur Hill, and Strother Martin. Newman reprised the role of Lew Harper in the inferior 1975 sequel The Drowning Pool. If you enjoy Harper, I recommend checking out James Garner's turn as Philip Marlowe in Marlowe (1969). You can currently stream Harper on Rumble for free by clicking here.


  1. More likely Harper's name was changed cuz the studio couldn't sell "Archer" without thoughts of Merrie Men and Sherwood Forest.
    An article could be written about movies destroyed by bad titles. (Shawshank Redemption)

  2. I'm always up for any films featuring James Mason and Simone Signoret -- not to mention Paul Newman. I'm adding both of these to my watchlist.

  3. The ending to "Harper" is particularly well pulled off. Loved it.