Nearly ten years after Harper comes The Drowning Pool (1975). This sequel once again banks on Paul Newman’s good looks to enlist viewer engagement in a rat’s nest of scheming treachery. Low-rent PI Lew Harper (Newman) travels to New Orleans this time, hired by old flame Iris Devereaux (Joanne Woodward) to investigate a blackmail note. Someone is threatening to expose Iris’s adulterous affairs, which may jeopardize her inheritance from cold, stingy mother-in-law Olivia (Coral Browne). Harper starts by trying to track down Pat Reavis (Andy Robinson), the fired family chauffeur suspected of writing the note. In the process, though, Harper uncovers much more than he bargained for when the case embroils him with corrupt cops, a rapacious oil magnate, and other shady figures, leading to numerous scrapes with death.
The Drowning Pool is surprisingly similar to its far-removed original, at least in two key respects: Newman, who slips back into the role effortlessly, and the plot, which is suitably tortuous and laced with peril, including the titular action setpiece, which is undeniably memorable. As such, it’s a reasonable “season two” of the series and might work for certain mystery buffs. In many other respects, though, the film feels very different, and not nearly as successful. It lacks Harper’s shiny Technicolor energy, replacing it with a grubby, darker look and ordinary direction. The music is distracting and tonally off, and this time, Harper isn’t surrounded by a colorful suspect list of potential allies and enemies. Instead, the supporting cast—the aforementioned, plus Tony Franciosa, Melanie Griffith, Murray Hamilton, Linda Haynes, Richard Jaeckel, and Gail Strickland, among others—are run-of-the-mill tools of the plot, largely depriving Harper of the amiable guesswork of identifying the motives of supposed friends and acquaintances. For all Harper’s flaws, it was at least fun in its convoluted, colorful way, bringing the semi-sleazy underworld of SoCal to life. The Drowning Pool is a murky shadow of its predecessor, which might satisfy Newman fans but is otherwise unremarkable.