Lew Archer returns to the big screen

Ross Macdonald’s immortal private investigator Lew Archer is apparently set to make a return to cinema screens. It has been announced that Warner Bros. and producer Joel Silver have bought the rights to The Galton Case, very much the turning point in the series (and which I reviewed here), with a view to starting a new franchise, which is good news for lovers of the hardboiled mystery genre onscreen.

The same studio first brought the character to the screen in the shape of Paul Newman in the 1966 adaptation of The Moving Target, the debut book in the series. However, the movie was re-titled Harper when the main character’s name was changed, though screenwriter William Goldman otherwise remained pretty faithful to the novel. The next book in the series was belatedly adapted some nine years later with Newman still in the role for The Drowning Pool (1975), by which time two other actors had played the role and kept the original name intact too …

In 1974 a pilot was made for a prospective TV series, with Peter Graves leading a very strong cast as Archer in an adaptation of The Underground Man, Macdonald 1972 bestseller.Adapted by Douglas Heyes and directed by Paul Wendkos, two of the best guys in the business at the time, this superior TV-Movie also featured Vera Miles, Jim Hutton, Jack Klugman, Judith Anderson and Celeste Holm.

The always well-informed Jeff Pierce of The Rap Sheet has some fascinating things to say about this pilot in a post from last year published as a tribute on Graves’ death and which is well worth reading – you can check it out here.

The pilot was retooled and the next year led to a very brief series, retitled Archer, with Brian Keith now in the title role – despite scripts by the likes of Leigh Brackett, it only lasted a woeful six episodes before being cancelled. What little of it that is generally available suggests that Keith, sporting an ill-fitting toupe, was not particularly well cast. It will be fascinating to see if this new project gets off the ground and who will be cast in the main role – would George Clooney be too much to hope for?

For further details, see the news item over at Deadline News.

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6 Responses to Lew Archer returns to the big screen

  1. Mike Ripley says:

    My November “Getting Away With Murder” column is now posted at http://www.shotsmag.co.uk.
    It contains nothing about Ross Macdonald but I couldn’t think of another way to tell you.

  2. Patrick says:

    If done right, this project has potential! I reviewed The Galton Case as well, but my review was absolutely dreadful, focusing more on the hardboiled genre than a truly excellent book. This comes soon after the Perry Mason announcement, and of course, the PM tales do have rather a hardboiled edge to them, so it seems like that project could have potential too. The Ross Macdonald and Erle Stanley Gardner estates should give the Agatha Christie estate a lesson or two… (But hey, to balance out Matthew’s insanities, James Prichard is the head honcho over at The Langtail Press now, so that’s great news for us mystery fans!)

    • Hi Patrick -thanks for the comments. It would be interesting to see if the Perry Mason adaptations were closer to the 1930s film versions which were typically fast-moving Warner Bros. thrillers in the snappy depression-era style. I think you are way to tough on your review of The Galton Case. Yes, it’s a shame that Chandler isn’t more to your taste perhaps and that does tend to hijack the review a bit, but there are plenty of people out there (like me) saying how great he was and it is perhaps much more valuable to read valid arguments against his work. I may not agree with your overall opinion of Chandler, but yours are clearly valid points! And we both agree how great Macdonald was! I must admit, I have yet to purchase any of the Longtail titles, purely because they can be darned expensive, but there are some great titles there so I am sure I will succumb, especially if I do become an e-reader …

  3. John says:

    I’m excited for all these vintage mystery novel movie adaptations: Perry Mason (Downey), Nick Charles (Depp) and now Lew Archer. I left a comment at The Rap Sheet about this. It listed a variety of actor possibilities by category (world weary character actor, young and hip, non-American playing American). My top picks are either Jon Hamm or Ryan Gosling, depending on how age appropriate the producers want to go. I also thought if Heath Ledger were alive he would have made a memorable and intriguing Lew Archer. Newman was 41 when he made HARPER. Hamm is 40, Gosling is only 31.

    • Some really excellent ideas there John (mortality issues notwithstanding) – I always had Nick Nolte in my mind (or at least his voice circa Prince of Tides). It would be great if this really happened – hell, maybe they could get William Goldman to do the script – he’s still got all his marbles as far as I know. He did do a script after Harper for a never made adaptation of The Chill which I would love to read …

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