If you’re looking to settle in with a good crime movie then check this one out. It’s based on “The Moving Target”, Ross MacDonald’s 1949 debut of Lew Archer. One story says the last name of the character was changed because of legal reasons.
Lew Harper’s (Paul Newman) lawyer pal Arthur Graves (Arthur Hill) gets him hired by the wealthy Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall) to find her husband Ralph. She’s was paralyzed when she fell off a horse. After that Ralph drank a lot and was a womanizer.
Before he leaves he meets pilot Allen Taggert (Robert Wagner) and Elaine’s stepdaughter Miranda (Pamela Tiffin). She does what she can to attract Allan but it doesn’t work. While on this case Harper is going through a divorce with wife Susan (Janet Leigh)
Harper finds out that Ralph got drunk and gave away a mountain. He was also involved with an astrologer. She’s Fay Estabrook (Shelly Winters). She used to be a movie star but booze ended that. He catches up with her in a bar and she’s drunk. This has the typical Hollywood scene of terrible music and even worse dancing. They try so hard to be what they think is “with it” that the film makers come off looking ridiculous. But, that doesn’t take away from the movie.
He takes her home and she passes out. The phone rings and it’s a woman who asks if the truck has gotten there yet. She’s on to him and hangs up. Then in walks a man with a gun. He’s Fay’s husband Dwight Troy (Robert Webber). He lets him leave.
Harper’s nest stop is a bar called The Piano. The singer-pianist is the junkie Betty Fraley (Julie Harris). She’s the one who called. He lets her think he’s a narc. He asks too many questions and Betty signals the bouncer. Outside he starts to work Harper over. Allan saves the day.
He spots a man jump into a truck. Then he hears a couple gunshots. Allan took a few shots at the tires and missed. Harper jumps on the passenger door but gets tossed off. He makes note of the tire tracks.
He moves on to a dump and gets information including the name of the truck driver. He decides to visit the mountain retreat of Claude (Strother Martin) a religious nut. Ralph donated everything to the Temple. Before leaving Harper sees tire tracks that match the truck.
A ransom note is delivered to Elaine. Albert gets the money and stashes it in his safe. Harper goes back to see Claude. This time it’s not so friendly. He tries to leave and Claude signals a group of men to come out and stop him. Harper ends up in a pool of water. He looks up and there’s Troy. He finds out what’s really going on and manages to get out of there loaded with bruises.
There’s a lot more to come and I don’t want to add any spoilers. This is a classy production and Newman is just great. Kudos also to Robert Wagner.