Paul Newman as Harper – Brown Plaid Sport Coat
Paul Newman as Lew Harper, wisecracking private eye
Los Angeles, Late Summer 1965
Release Date: February 23, 1966
Director: Jack Smight
By the mid 1960s, Paul Newman had proved himself to be one of the most talented – and yet still down-to-earth – actors in the industry. He had racked up impressive performances in dramas like The Long Hot Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus, The Hustler, and Hud, but the world still had yet to see how well the charming blue-eyed actor could handle comedy.
Around this time, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman was desperately trying to get Ross MacDonald’s 1949 mystery novel The Moving Target turned into a film. The film rights were purchased, and Goldman completed his first ever solo screenplay, now titled Harper. Frank Sinatra was originally slated to play the protagonist, as he was looking for detective roles at the time, but the role eventually went to Newman.
Readers of the novel may have been confused as to how the protagonist Lew Archer became Lew Harper, and there are two theories. One, which sounds more apocryphal, states that Newman believed he would be more successful in a film starting with an “H” (The Hustler, Hud, etc.). This seems unlikely due to Newman’s humble reputation, and the more likely explanation is that the filmmakers only had the rights to the novel and not the character. Goldman himself wrote, “We needed a different name and ‘Harper’ seemed OK, the guy harps on things, it’s essentially what he does for a living.”
The film became a wild success for all involved and led to long and illustrious careers for both Newman and Goldman. Now having established himself as a cool actor with comic chops to boot, Newman went on to star in Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a score of other classic films over the next forty years. Goldman would collaborate again with Newman for Butch Cassidy and is still turning out scripts today. Films like All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, and A Few Good Men show just how well Goldman could write for any character in any genre.
Though it didn’t receive any major attention from the Academy Awards or Golden Globes, Harper led to well-deserved award nominations for Newman (Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance) and Goldman (Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay); Goldman won his award. The film is now remembered as a hip ’60s tribute to earlier noir mysteries, with Lauren Bacall cast as a grieving wife to pay homage to her involvement in films like The Big Sleep alongside her husband, Humphrey Bogart. Newman would later reprise the role of Lew Harper in 1975 in The Drowning Pool where he starred with real-life wife Joanne Woodward.
What’d He Wear?
In the style of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett’s great pulp detectives, Lew Harper is simple, cynical, and skeptical. He dresses first for comfort and utilitarianism not bothering with frills or strict adherence to fashion. His base outfit is always a dark jacket and tie with a short-sleeved shirt. In a decade where ad men dressed to the nines and government agents sported bespoke suits, Harper has no time for these added distractions. Plus, as a Chandler-esque private detective, he averages about four beatings per week so the clothes won’t last long anyway.
After impressing the client with a blue suit on his first day at work, Harper dresses down a bit for his second day of investigations with a dark brown wool sport coat. The single-breasted coat has a thick brown and black Glen Plaid overcheck and fits nicely when Harper’s probing takes him out into the countryside, although the heavy wool was likely pretty hot in the desert.
The sport coat has a 3-button front, but Harper almost always leaves his jackets undone. The edge-swollen notch lapels are slightly wider than what was most fashionable in 1965-1966, indicating that this is probably an older jacket that managed to make its way to the front of Harper’s closet.
The shoulders are lightly padded with slight roping on the sleeveheads. The jacket has a welted breast pocket and straight hip pockets with slim flaps. The single vent is on the shorter side, and there are two black plastic buttons on each cuff.
Harper pairs the sport coat with dark brown medium-rise trousers that are almost definitely the same trousers he wears the next day as part of a suit, although they do appear more charcoal than brown in some light. The trousers are certainly not pleated, but they may have front darts that provide a more comfortable fit throughout the hips; I would need some higher quality images to determine whether or not this is the case.
Harper often keeps his hands in the on-seam side pockets, and there are two jetted pockets on the rear. The trousers taper down from the waist to the cuffed bottoms (with “turn-ups”) that break short over his ankles.
Not interested in the cleaner look that braces or side adjusters provide, Harper wears a thick brown leather belt that fastens in the front through a simple round brass clasp.
Harper’s preference for short-sleeved shirts marks his most sartorially irresponsible decision. Not only does a short-sleeved shirt and tie end up looking like a high school principal at best (and a chemist-cum-serial killer at worst), but a warm climate like the southern California desert means arm sweat will hit the jacket directly. It must be comfortable for Harper, though, as he wears only short-sleeved shirts throughout the film.
The shirt worn with this outfit is light cream with a spread collar, continuing the earth tones. It has large buttons down a plain, placket-less front. The shirt is clearly meant to be more of a casual utility shirt with its double chest pockets, although it’s worth mentioning that Al Pacino also wore a dress shirt with two chest pockets in The Godfather.
Harper’s undershirt is visible through the lightweight shirt. As seen in the first sequence of the film, he wears a white ribbed sleeveless A-shirt.
Harper ties his solid dark brown silk necktie into a slim Windsor knot. I would imagine that men who don’t look like Paul Newman aren’t quite as capable of pulling off the short-sleeved shirt and tie look.
The shades of brown continue to Harper’s feet, where he wears a pair of dark cordovan leather plain-toe derbies and dark dress socks. While brown would be the most sartorially correct sock color option, I ran through a few different layers of color correction and Harper’s socks do appear to be black. (He does, however, wear dark brown socks the next day with his brown suit.)
Harper’s few accessories adorn his left hand, including a silver ring – likely Newman’s own wedding band – on his left ring finger and his steel wristwatch, which Jamie Weiss would identify in 2022 for DMARGE as “his Waltham Bathyscape Diver, made for Waltham by Blancpain.” The “baby Blancpain” has a round black dial and black leather strap.
Go Big or Go Home
After watching most of the Newman catalog, it was fun to come across Harper and watch him still relatively early in his career getting to blend his comic, action, and dramatic abilities as a skid row P.I.
A good review at Forgotten Films calls out the fact that “Newman is a bit too smooth and handsome for his own good, he loses the grittiness the character needs rather quickly,” but Newman is still a top-notch actor and he channels his inner Chandler with lines like:
Stop acting like a bitch in heat anytime something pretty in pants wanders by.
Both the book and film are set in Los Angeles and its environs, although Ross MacDonald had employed the Chandler-esque technique of thinly veiling a real city (Santa Monica, Gray Lake) with a fictional name (Bay City, Silver Lake) in order to libel the hell out of it for the good of the story. MacDonald thus transformed Santa Barbara into “Santa Teresa”. Sue Grafton would later pay tribute to MacDonald by placing her fictional P.I. Kinsey Millhone in Santa Teresa for the “alphabet mystery” novels.
Has anyone ever heard of the Tabor beer drank by Newman, Robert Wagner, and others in the film?
It may be a fictional can, invented for the film, but I’m usually pretty good at sorting out which brands are real and which are not. My research has come up flat, which makes me wonder if it was some sort of budget-priced southern California regional beer… or maybe just a false label created by the props department.
How to Get the Look
If you’re the type that likes wearing a coat and tie but doesn’t go for any frills, Harper provides an outline for creating a basic look.
- Dark brown tonal glen plaid wool single-breasted sport coat with notch lapels, 3-button front, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single rear vent
- Dark brown darted front medium-rise suit trousers with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, jetted rear pockets, cuffs/turn-ups
- Light cream short-sleeve shirt with spread collar, two chest pockets, and plain button front
- Dark brown silk necktie
- Brown leather belt with round brass clasp
- Dark cordovan leather plain-toe derby shoes
- Black dress socks
- White ribbed sleeveless undershirt
- Waltham Bathyscape Diver stainless wristwatch with round black dial and black leather strap
- Plain silver ring, worn on left ring finger
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. Ross Macdonald’s book The Moving Target is also available and – from what I hear – definitely worth reading.
The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise.
While completely unrelated, there is a Czech town named Tabor, and it hosts annual beer festival for some time. Not Oktoberfest, sure, but not completely obscure either.
Sounds like Tabor is worth a visit! Have you ever been to its beer festival?
Nope, but my uncle have been, and he enjoyed every second of it.
Great subject for an article. You never stop surprising me with the movies and characters that you write about on this site. I thought I was the only person under the age of 70 that has heard of this flick, much less actually watched it. I can’t recall what gun Newman carried in Harper, I’m pretty sure it was a 2″ barrelled revolver, which were common place in detective films of the era. If you haven’t seen The Drowning Pool, check it out, it is really worth watching. It is considered an inferior film when compared to Harper, but I enjoyed it more.
Thanks, Craig! I still haven’t seen The Drowning Pool, but it’s on my list. While I’m sure the tone is much different, it will be fun for me after just finishing the True Detective series (again) to see Newman in a similar environment/storyline.
I also wrote the IMFDB post (http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Harper) for this film – and many others! – and you’re correct that it’s a 2″ snub revolver. In this case, it’s the ubiquitous Colt Detective Special. Harper has a blued version that he carries before using a nickel version “borrowed” from Robert Wagner for the finale. A very common but very private eye-worthy piece.
I always learn something new here at BAMF. I had not heard of Harper until now. I’ve added that to my list of DVDs to buy. Talking about forgotten films, can you or anyone give me a list of 1960s and pre-1960s films that I must watch. Your personal favourites or forgotten classics. I have watched a fair share of older films but from the 60s backwards, my knowledge starts to dwindle and pre-1960s, my knowledge is very scarce. I must improve. I’ve seen classics like The Third Man, North by Northwest, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Rear Window, Citizen Kane, White Heat and other Cagney classics, Touch of Evil, Scarface, some early Kubrick etc. I also picked up a bunch of hard-boiled classics like the The Big Heat, Laura, etc., which I still need to watch. So, what else?
On a side note; I dunno if it’s just me but do you think men these days look different? I don’t mean in terms of fashion or haircut but facially. There’s just something about the face that’s different. For example, if you compare Paul Newman’s face with any male today, you can tell they are from different eras. Do you notice it?
Mohammed, two films off the top of my head from the 60’s would be Point Blank with Lee Marvin and The Girl Hunters with Mickey Spillane. Both BAMF worthy films. Also Bullitt with Steve McQueen, but you have already heard of that one. Teeritz will have some good suggestions.
Craig, thank-you. Mohammed, I would probably need your email address to send you a decent list of films. In the meantime,
1920s- everything by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Maybe even Harold Lloyd.
1930s- The 39 Steps, Only Angels Have Wings, Bringing Up Baby, The Thin Man, Sabotage
1940s- every film noir you can lay your mitts on. Plus The Maltese Falcon, It’s a Wonderful Life, Spellbound, Saboteur, Red River (‘cos NOBODY takes an arrow better than Joanne Dru. Nobody!), Citizen Kane, Definitely His Girl Friday, and most definitely, without a doubt, oh-how-I-envy-you-if-you’ve-never-seen-it, Casablanca, which is only the greatest film ever made, and you can tell THAT to Charles Foster Kane.
1950s- Sunset Boulevard, and everything else that Billy Wilder ever made, same goes for Howard Hawks. High Noon, The African Queen, anything with Cary Grant in it, Rear Window (‘cos I prefer it to Vertigo, but you may as well watch that too), Paths of Glory (Kubrick’s only good film. There, I said it), Marilyn Monroe’s complete output.
1960 to 1965- To Kill A Mockingbird (read the book too), The Guns of Navarone, Psycho, the first four Bond films, The Ipcress File.
See you in about a year. Oh, and every Best Picture winner from 1935 to 1965…make that a year and a half.
Ooh, 1:05am. Over and out.
Your mention of both Billy Wilder and Marilyn makes me remember that Some Like It Hot is a must for Mohammed’s list also!
Covered. “Everything else that Billy Wilder ever made”. Oh, and The Great Race by Blake Edwards. May as well throw that in, for the pie fight.
I’ve seen some of the ones you mention and they are all excellent films. Rear Window was truly suspenseful. I found the first half of Vertigo scary the way I find some horror movies scary. Great film. The Ipcress File was excellent, too.
Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale was my favourite Bond film (I still love it) but after re-watching Connery’s classics and being hit with 60’s nostalgia (strange, since I’m 28), I’ve gotta say they are my favourites. With the rest of the list, yes , guess I’ll have to get back to you in a year or two! I would be happy to give you my email address for a more broken down list if you tell me how to give it to you.
You make a bold statement regarding Kubrick but I respect you for it. I respect that you’re not swayed by popular opinion! I used to be easily influenced by critics but only in the last 5 years or so have I really learned to form my own opinions. Personally, Kubrick is one of my favourite directors and I’ve seen all his films except The Killer’s Kiss and Fear and Desire. Something to add to my name, hehe.
Kubrick? Hah! That’s nothing. You should see what I think of Tarantino. Actually, I do both directors a disservice. I haven’t minded Kubrick’s other films (what I’ve seen, anyway), but I just could never understand the fuss about him. Same with Quentin T. I think I need to re-watch Pulp Fiction again. I haven’t seen it since its cinema release in ’94 and there was a great deal of hype attached to it at the time.
I would definitely recommend watching Pulp Fiction again. However, though I love that film, I would say watch Jackie Brown. That is my favourite of Tarantino’s films. His best. I cannot get tired of it and can watch it a week after I’ve watched it at any time.
I agree about Jackie Brown; it incorporates the best parts of Tarantino’s style with Elmore Leonard’s influence to keep things grounded. Plus, reliable badass Pam Grier is there to show how a woman nearly 50 can still be alluring and Robert Forster adds more than two cents with his pleasant brand of street wisdom. Not to mention De Niro nailing it as a loser, Samuel L. Jackson chewing up whatever scenery he can find, etc., etc. Michael Keaton is always a treasure as well.
The Girl Hunters sounds intriguing; I’ll add it to my list. Now, Point Blank is a film I love. Lee Marvin was a true BAMF. A true male. Bullitt was great; every time I see it, I want to get on a plane to San Francisco, get a Mustang and chase a Charger! In fact, I hope to visit America next year for at least a couple of weeks. San Francisco and New York are at the top of my list, although I’d like to visit all the states; that’d be impossible though, unfortunately. I’ve grown up watching America on film and even though I love England, I also love America even though I have not been! I’ve even adopted (subconsciously) some American nuances in say, speaking or the style of speaking. Sometimes, even the accent! I can do a mean deep-south accent (or so I believe).
But I digress…..
Since you liked Point Blank there are two films from the 70’s you may want to check out. The first is The Outfit with Robert Duvall. The novel the movie was based on was written by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) and Duvall is playing the same character that Lee Marvin plays in Point Blank. The Outfit is sort of a quasi sequel to Point Blank, however Duvall’s version is named Macklin!?!?!. The other film I recommend is Prime Cut with Lee Marvin. It’s a little offbeat, but worth checking out.
I definitely must see The Outfit; I had no idea it had the same character. Thank you.
I have been fortunate enough to have sees Prime Cut many years back. I liked it but did not appreciate it as much as I should have. When I think back on it nowadays, I remember how good it really was. The sausage factory introduction is horribly excellent. Gonna buy the DVD at some point.
Mohammed, I would happily drive the Charger as you chase in the Mustang. I just hope it doesn’t have the same ending…
San Francisco is a fantastic city, although be prepared to dress warmly. As I state in my Bullitt posts, the city’s vendors do a great deal of business selling sweatshirts to people who come to city expecting “California weather” when – in reality – it can be in the 40s or 50s (Fahrenheit) during a summer day.
That’d be great, hehe!
BAMF blog has saved me a good few dollars/pounds! Yes, I remember that advice about San Francisco on your “Dirty Harry’s Red Sweater Vest” post (the first BAMF post I ever read; must be a good year and half since. Time does fly…).
Mohammed, you’ve seen some excellent classics! I think it’s very appropriate that this discussion is from a post about Newman too as he was a class act from a bygone era. Other than the great suggestions from Craig and Teeritz, I always suggest digging up some of the classic Hitchcocks from the ’30s and ’40s. From the better-known ones like Rope (1948) and Notorious (1946) there are a great number that don’t receive nearly as much discussion as they deserve like the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and – a personal favorite for breaking people in to an unseen side of Hitchcock – Young and Innocent (1937). Sure, some of them are a bit cornier and there’s a notable gap in production value, but it’s fun to see what Hitchcock could get out of limited resources and very talented British actors before he became a celebrated master of the genre for two decades.
While you’re on a noir/hard-boiled beat, also be sure to check out The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) to see Bogie at the top of the PI game. It’s fun to compare the two as well. Falcon is a tight and relatively light noir that shows the third time’s a charm as it was previously made twice in ’31 and ’36. The Big Sleep has been described as a narrative mess (confirmed by Raymond Chandler himself!), but the style lays the groundwork for all following noir and it’s hella fun to watch even if you’re not sure who killed who and why. Add Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947) for the perfect ’40s noir trio.
One of my all time favorite movies – and one that garnered a BAMF Style post in April 2013 – is 1958’s A Night to Remember. This is a spectacular British film about the Titanic disaster that is nearly documentarian in its adherence to detail. It uses mostly unknown actors to let the sadness of the true disaster tell the story rather than two fictional teens in love *cough*James Cameron*cough*. If you ask me, it’s the best depiction of the night’s events even though it leaves out things not confirmed at that point (ship splitting in two, etc.). It’s based on a 1955 book by Walter Lord which is also worth a read.
My final recommendations are the massively popular 1930s gangster movies that popularized the genre. My favorites are Scarface (1932) and The Roaring Twenties (1939), but Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), The Petrified Forest (1935 – great young Bogie as a snarling crook!), and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) are also worth a watch. I’m also a big fan of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932).
Sorry about the long-winded answer, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of watching ahead of you! I agree that there is a very classic quality to old actors’ faces like Newman, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, etc. I can’t put a finger on it, but it’s a sort of refined masculinity and class that is hardly seen today.
(Apologies about the length of this post. I meant to recommend about 5-10 movies and got a bit… carried away.)
Oh no, I forgot to mention Sweet Smell of Success (1957) also! One of the few movies I watched for the first time then immediately replayed just to soak in the mise-en-scène again.
Holy Cow, I forgot the Marx Brothers! You gotta see Duck Soup. And maybe one Abbott & Costello movie, any one will do, but I recommend the one with the skit about the Susquehanna Hat Company. It’s on YouTube.
And don’t forget Astaire. I recommend Top Hat.
There are about a million other films I could mention, but I gotta get the kids to school.
I just watched the Susquehanna Hat Company skit. Great stuff!
I hope to pick up a Hitchcock blu-ray collection in a few months, since I have only a few Hitchcock DVDs. Of his films that I’ve seen (only 5 or 6), I loved them all. It’s tough deciding which is better. Hitchcock also had some great opening title sequences; I especially like the ones for North by Northwest and Psycho. Very inventive and ahead of their time.
The Maltese Falcon is one I must re-watch. I bought The Big Sleep recently, along with other film noirs, which are waiting to be watched. Out Of The Past was excellent; gripping from start to finish. I’ll watch these as a trio, like you say, one night. Thanks for this recommendation.
I’ll be sure to look up A Night To Remember; I really appreciate films that pay attention to detail (like Zodiac (2007), one of my favourite films, and Memories of Murder (2003), an excellent Korean police procedural drama, which is also a favourite film of mine.)
Of the Cagney films I’ve seen, I think I liked White Heat best, although the others were excellent, too. For a shorter guy, James Cagney was very intimidating/scary in his films (grapefruit to the face, kicking a lady onto the bed etc.) The rest of the films you mention, I’m adding to my list.
If I may repeat myself, I cannot more strongly recommend Memories of Murder. It is not just a police procedural, it is also a character study (or studies). A study of obsession as well, kinda like in Zodiac. The reason it hits so hard is because you get to know the characters. Character and our familiarity with them is something Roger Ebert always held in high regard, and I agree more and more as I get older. Have you watched any Korean films? They are some truly great films that have been made in Korea. I hope it’s okay if I recommend a few: A Bittersweet Life (2005; very stylish and some excellent suits worn by the main character; one for you to cover), I Saw The Devil (2010), OldBoy (2003), Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002), Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005), The Chaser (2008), Thirst (2009), 3-Iron (2004), Mother (2009). But my favourite of all is still Memories of Murder.
Regarding the long post, I’m grateful that you, and everyone here, took the time to write these. When I ask for recommendations, thorough lists are what I prefer but rarely get. So, thanks. I’m really touched! If you have any more recommendations, I’ll happily take them.
Sorry for *my* long post.
I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Korean films, but I’m glad to have this fine starting point! Sounds like I ought to track down Memories of Murder. Many have also told me about A Bittersweet Life. Thanks for the recommendations, and you’re welcome for the ones above! Movies are one thing that I can’t shut up about.
You’re welcome! Same here; I have annoyed many a friend because I talk about films all the time.
Hey, LS, in all this confusion, I kinda’ lost track myself. About the original subject of your post, that is. Newman was a true cool kat, for my money quite a few degrees cooler than Redford AND McQueen. Guaranteed, whenever my wife watches “The Sting” and Newman appears on-screen, she’ll say; “Gee, he was a beautiful man.”
I’m in no position to argue.
Great write-up, again, and believe it or not, I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Harper”, but I remember when “The Drowning Pool” was released. It was competing with “Jaws” and “Rollerball” at the box-office. Tough gig, even for Newman.
It’s very true that Newman brought a level of masculinity and class to the silver screen with a genuine “everyman” charm. He could nail it all – comedy, drama, action, romance – and leave you wanting to be a little more like him. Redford and McQueen also nailed cool, but both of their offscreen personas leave me wondering if they share(d) Newman’s gift for humility.
I’m sure Harper would be right up your alley! I’ve got a plan to cover his Torn Curtain attire too. I think he was a fine Hitchcockian hero, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more of a chance to stretch his talent for The Master of Suspense.
Love this post. In my opinion, Newman is one of the most consistently underrated (male) style icons. Whilst the wardrobr choices may never be outlandish, he always wears the clothes. I think my fave Newman-on-screen has to be Cool Hand Luke, such an insouciant but perfectly on point performance.
Reblogged this on Autobiography of a Cad.
In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list. They are simply some things I’ve noticed in more than one of the novels.
Great article, but I am pretty sure that Aaron Sorkin wrote “A Few Good Men”.