The Drowning Pool (film)

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The Drowning Pool
Drowning pool.jpg
original movie poster
Directed byStuart Rosenberg
Produced byDavid Foster
Lawrence Turman
Written byTracy Keenan Wynn
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Walter Hill
Based onthe novel The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald
StarringPaul Newman
Joanne Woodward
Anthony Franciosa
Murray Hamilton
Gail Strickland
Melanie Griffith
Music byMichael Small
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited byJohn C. Howard
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • July 10, 1975 (1975-07-10)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.7 million[1]
Box office$2.6 million (US and Canada rentals)[2]

The Drowning Pool is a 1975 American neo-noir[3] thriller film directed by Stuart Rosenberg, and based upon Ross Macdonald's novel of the same name. The film stars Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Anthony Franciosa, and is a loose sequel to Harper. The setting is shifted from California to Louisiana.

Plot synopsis[edit]

Los Angeles-based private investigator Lew Harper (Paul Newman) flies to Louisiana to do a job for his ex-flame, Iris Devereaux (Joanne Woodward). She believes the family's ex-chauffeur is the person who is blackmailing her with the knowledge that she has cheated on her husband. The husband does not care, but his mother, Olivia Devereaux (Coral Browne), is the family matriarch and runs the family estate with an iron, unforgiving grip.

Even before his investigation begins, Harper is approached in his motel room by a teenaged girl. He sends her away, later he discovers that the teenager is Iris Devereaux's daughter, Schuyler (Melanie Griffith). Their meeting in the motel room brings Harper to the attention of police chief Broussard (Anthony Franciosa) and the disagreeable Lieutenant Franks (Richard Jaeckel). Broussard accepts Harper's explanation, but tells him he will be following what Harper does as he has a personal interest in the Devereaux family.

Harper is abducted by two hoods working for the oil magnate J.J. Kilbourne (Murray Hamilton), who thinks Harper might be useful in his efforts to get ownership of some of Olivia Devereaux's oil-rich properties, which she is content to maintain as bird sanctuaries. Harper is non-committal towards Kilbourne, and the hoods return him to his car. On Harper's return he learns that the dead body of Olivia Devereaux has just been found and the police's prime suspect is the ex-chauffeur.

While searching for the chauffeur Harper is abducted again, this time by hoods working for a mysterious woman. He does not have any useful information for her and is released, he later finds out she is Mavis Kilbourne (Gail Strickland), the wife of the oil magnate. She is working behind her husband's back trying find an account book containing information of his illicit business dealings, which he is desperate to recover and would kill her over if he knew she had a hand in its disappearance.

Harper tracks down the chauffeur, Pat Reavis (Andrew Robinson). He calls it in to the police and makes Reavis drive them back to the Devereaux estate. En route, Reavis, whom Harper found with ten thousand dollars in his possession, denies involvement in blackmailing Iris and murdering Olivia, claiming he was at the scene of the murder because he had been having an affair with Schuyler. However he admits to having information that he expects to yield a lot of money, and offers Harper a share of it if he will let him go. The car they are in is forced off the road by masked gunmen, who shoot Reavis dead and shoot at, but miss, Harper.

Despite the ever-growing body count in what started as a simple case of blackmail, and despite Iris's pleading with him to give up on the case and go home, Harper continues investigating. He correctly deduces that Reavis came into possession of the missing account book and must have given it to a trusted girlfriend for safekeeping. Realizing further that Lieutenant Franks must have been involved in the killing of Reavis, Harper ambushes Franks in his own home and forces him to admit he does jobs for J.J. Kilbourne. When Harper later confronts Kilbourne with the information, the oil magnate admits to having hired Reavis, but insists it was only to spy on Olivia Devereaux, not to kill her. When Harper tells Kilbourne he knows about the missing account book, Kilbourne offers him a fortune for it, but Harper just walks away. This leads to the climactic scene of the film's title, with J.J. Kilbourne and his henchman torturing Harper and Mavis to find out where the notebook is, their desperate attempt to escape, and several more deaths, including a final one that results in police chief Broussard confronting Harper despairingly.



In April 1973 producers David Foster and Lawrence Turman announced they had optioned the rights to MacDonald's novel The Drowning Pool (1950) for director Robert Mulligan and had hired Walter Hill to adapt it.[4] Hill later estimated that only two minor scenes in the film were true to his adaptation.[5]

Paul Newman agreed to star, which meant the film was co-produced by First Artists at Warner Bros. By September 1974 Tracy Keenan Wynn was writing the screenplay.[6]

Newman said "a character like Harper is very easy. It's great fun to get up in the morning and play Harper."[7]

The film was shot in late 1974. There was location filming in Lafayette and New Orleans.[8] The melody to the international hit song Killing Me Softly with His Song is heard playing in the background of several scenes in the film.


The movie was nominated as best picture of the year by the Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

A.H. Weiler of The New York Times said in the review: "Under Stuart Rosenberg's muscular but pedestrian direction, the script, adapted from (Ross Macdonald's) 1950 novel, transports our hero from his native California to present-day New Orleans and its bayou environs. ... Of course, Mr. Newman's Harper survives beatings, traps and a variety of enticing offers with quips, charm and inherent decency projected in underplayed, workmanlike style. If his performance is not outstanding, it is a shade more convincing than the characterizations of the other principals, who emerge as odd types and not as fully fleshed, persuasive individuals. ... Unfortunately, the performances and such authentic facets as Cajun talk, bayous, New Orleans and an imposing, white-pillared, antebellum mansion set amid wide lawns and ancient live oaks, serve only to make The Drowning Pool a mildly interesting diversion." [9]

Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed 2-stars out of a possible 4 rating. He wrote that the basic premise of The Drowning Pool was "straightforward thriller material, and could have made a decent B movie. But since "The Drowning Pool" is a Paul Newman vehicle, it goes first class, and that turns out to be fatal. So much attention is given to making the movie look good visually that the story gets mislaid..."[10]

The film was a disappointment at the boxoffice in the United States and Canada, earning rentals of $2.6 million[2], however it performed better elsewhere, especially in Italy, France, Spain and South Africa, and was expected to earn worldwide rentals of $8 million.[1]

Home media[edit]

The Drowning Pool was released on November 14, 2006, as part of the Paul Newman Collection DVD box set.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Foreign Fans Fancy 'Drowning Pool,' So $8,000,000 Foreseen". Variety. January 14, 1976. p. 38.
  2. ^ a b FIRST ANNUAL 'GROSSES GLOSS' Byron, Stuart. Film Comment; New York Vol. 12, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1976): 30-31.
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  4. ^ Barbra Nightingale: SELECTED SHORTS DETECTIVE WHO? TOUCHDOWN! Nurse Barbra By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 29 Apr 1973: 135.
  5. ^ "Hard Riding", Greco, Mike, Film Comment 16.3 (May/Jun 1980): 13-19,80.
  6. ^ Wynn Signs Pact With Columbia Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]18 Sep 1974: f25.
  7. ^ The Newmans: 2 Lives in the Movies By MEL GUSSOW. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]28 Apr 1975: 33.
  8. ^ Display of hands for Barbra, Jon Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]05 Dec 1974: b16.
  9. ^ A.H. Weiler, "Newman as Harper: Detective Resurfaces in 'Drowning Pool'" N.Y. Times Review, June 26, 1975
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Drowning Pool Movie Review (1975) - Roger Ebert".

External links[edit]