Although most of my Fontana Ross Macdonald editions went to the charity shop (as explained here), a few escaped the cull. I kept The Drowning Pool for its photographic cover, a tie-in with the Stuart Rosenberg-directed movie.
Harper was made in 1966, its sequel The Drowning Pool a long nine years later in 1975. Perhaps the studio realized that its rights to the character were due to expire?
As you can see, Newman has matured in a way that nicely visualizes the character’s worldliness. This is the face of a guy who’s been around the block so many times he’s running low on petrol. Reading Macdonald, this is the face I always see in my head. Hair slightly greying, skin slightly lined. Newman in the 70s embodies Lew Archer perfectly.
It’s a shame the film is so bad. Harper is flawed but fun, but The Drowning Pool is an endurance test. Uncharacteristically, Newman delivers a broad unlikeable performance. In Harper, his arrogance seemed like youthful hubris; here, he recycles schtick which ill befits an older man.
Inexplicably, the action of the book is moved from California to Louisiana. Perhaps this explains why much of the film looks like it was shot through a lens doused in swamp water.
Newman’s co-star is his wife Joanne Woodward. The film invents a past romantic history for their two characters which (I don’t want to reveal a plot twist) plays out very unpleasantly. My guess is that Newman only agreed to play this character again if his wife could be involved – perhaps that explains his lacklustre performance. Happily, Newman would have another crack at the character (obliquely) in the 90s. But that’s for another blog entry…
So, a stinker of a movie. But I still treasure the cover. Because that’s what Lew Archer looks like.