(director: Stuart Rosenberg; screenwriters: Lorenzo Semple Jr./Tracy Keenan Wynn/Walter Hill/ based on the novel by Ross MacDonald; cinematographer: Gordon Willis; editor: John C. Howard; music: Michael Small; cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Joanne Woodward (Iris Devereaux), Tony Franciosa (Broussard), Murray Hamilton (Kilbourne), Gail Strickland (Mavis Kilbourne), Melanie Griffith (Schuyler Devereaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen), Richard Jaeckel (Lt. Franks), Paul Koslo (Candy), Coral Browne (Olivia Devereaux), Richard Derr (James Devereaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen, hooker), Andy Robinson (Pat Reavis, chauffeur), Elaine Reavis .(Helena Kallianiptes); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lawrence/David Foster; Warner Brothers; 1975)

It has a field day recycling private eye cliches while down in the bayou.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A box-office bomb. The title is derived from its climax at an abandoned mental home’s hydrotherapy plant. The crime drama was flatly directed by Stuart Rosenberg(“Cool Hand Luke”/”Pocket Money”/”Love and Bullets”). It’s based on the 1950 novel by the noted crime author Ross MacDonald. Writers Lorenzo Semple Jr., Tracy Keenan Wynn and Walter Hill keep it shallow, confusingly plotted and dreary. Paul Newman gets another crack at playing the smooth private eye Harper, a role he successfully played in the 1966 film Harper. But this second time around, the pic doesn’t work. It has a field day recycling private eye cliches while down in the bayou.

LA gumshoe Lew Harper (Paul Newman) goes to the Louisiana bayou to take the blackmail case of his former lover Iris Devereaux (Joanne Woodward, Newman’s wife), to protect her from an anonymous blackmailer who threatens to expose her infidelity. Iris married into the prominent oil family of James Devereaux (Richard Derr), and has a scheming sexpot jail-bait daughter named Schuyler (Melanie Griffith).

Harper survives nasty treatment by the interfering Beau Rivage police chief (Tony Franciosa); a few beatings by local thugs; the murder of Iris’ wealthy mother-in-law (Coral Browne); a blackmailing stud, the fired family chauffeur (Andy Robinson), who also is soon murdered; Iris’ unfriendly homosexual husband (Richard Derr) and, the film’s villain, the greedy, unscrupulous and grasping for his rival’s oil drilling fields, the sleazy oil baron Kilbourne (Murray Hamilton). Harper also receives some enticing financial offers to stop investigating, as he gets in the middle of the heated power struggle between the rival oil tycoons.

Richard Jaeckel plays a corrupt police officer. Linda Haynes plays a dim-witted hooker and the married chauffeur’s girlfriend. Paul Koslo plays one of Hamilton’s Cajun thugs.

What worked best was the bayou atmosphere created by the photography of Gordon Willis, giving the pic a sense of exotic reality; otherwise it’s a drag.

REVIEWED ON 6/1/2015 GRADE: C+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/