The Drowning Pool (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Way too much water.

            Detective Lew Harper (Paul Newman) travels to New Orleans in order to help Iris (Joanne Woodward) an old love of his who has now married and living in a large southern mansion that is controlled by her husband’s domineering mother Olivia (Coral Browne). Iris asks Harper to track down a former servant who she has fired and is now sending notes to her husband threatening to describe one of her elicit affairs. Initially Harper thinks it will be a simple straightforward case, but finds many twists and turns including the presence of an oil company looking to buy the land the mansion sits on for drilling. There is also Iris’s over-sexed teen daughter Schuyler (Melanie Griffith) who is always present when there is any trouble as well as the town’s sheriff Broussard (Tony Franciosa) who takes an unusual interest in the well fare of Iris and her daughter.

By itself this is an okay mystery although it takes a while getting there and there are too many characters popping in out of nowhere threatening harm to Harper to point that almost becomes formulaic. Compared to the first Harper this film pales in comparison. It lacks the snappy dialogue that made the first one so fun. The supporting characters are not as well defined, or as interesting and the overall production values are not as slick. I was amazed that with a script written by Tracy Keenan Wynn, Walter Hill, and Lorenzo Semple Jr. that it could be so overall ordinary, but it is. That doesn’t mean it is not passable, or entertaining, but it lacks the zing from the first.

I also didn’t like the change of location. Harper with his very detached approach worked better with the jaded Hollywood types. Here he just seems out-of-place. The mansion setting is boring and predictable. However, the scene where Harper is taken by boat along a swamp and to a pit bull farm where the animals are trained for dog fighting is special.

As for the supporting characters Richard Jaeckel, who has appeared with Newman before in several good scenes including the drowning one in Sometimes a Great Notion, is good as ‘bullet head’ a corrupt policeman who is constantly harassing Harper. Harper later turns the tables playing a game of Russian roulette with him that is great. Murray Hamilton is also quite good as the evil oil baron Kilbourne and the all red jumpsuit that he appears in is something else.

On the female end you have to love Melanie Griffith as the devious, nympho teen. She plays that type of part so well that I don’t think there is any other actress that could ever do it better. I did not like Gail Strickland as Mavis who is Kilbourne’s wife.  When we first see her she is a conniving, cocky, flirtatious woman, but then in a later scene turns into a whimpering, whiny mess begging Harper for help when she barely knows him. This extreme contrast didn’t work with me and I thought that a woman who marries a rich, but shady businessman and has been involved in some underhanded maneuverings herself should have a little better ‘plan B’ in place and not sink to such a pathetic helpless level the minute things unravel. Woodward is wasted in a boring role that allows for very little range. I wished she had played Strickland’s part as I think she would’ve made it more interesting.

The one scene that really stands out and makes this movie special is the part where Harper and Mavis are trapped in a hypo-therapy room in an old, abandoned asylum. Newman does most of his stunts here including being sprayed by a fire hose while locked in a strait jacket. The sequence where they plug up all the drains and then turn on all the showers in an attempt to float up the pool of water and escape out the skylight is amazing as is the moment where the gallons of water comes rushing through the door toppling furniture and people. This scene is incredible on many levels and should make it into the top twenty of best movie moments ever.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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