Harper (1966)

Based on a screenplay by William Goldman (Marathon Man, The Princess Bride) adapted from Ross MacDonald’s first Lew Archer novel, Harper follows a winding plot that includes kidnapping, murder, a fake cult, torture with cigarettes, and human trafficking. Chewing gum aggressively, Lew Harper (Paul Newman) searches for disappeared millionaire Ralph Sampson at the behest of the latter’s tony wife Elaine, played with Black Widow charm by Lauren Bacall. Despite the baffling complexity of events, it’s relatively easy to peg Sampson’s excessively handsome and slightly louche private pilot, Allan Taggart (Robert Wagner) as the most likely suspect. As the mystery unravels, however, almost no one can claim to be innocent. The film’s debts to Raymond Chandler’s Socal noir are obvious, especially in its contrast between the sunny opulence of Sampson’s estate and the gaudy interiors of second rate clubs and low rent apartments.