• I'm a great admirer of Ross Macdonald's mystery novels (though I have not read the one on which "Harper" is based). And there's certainly a lot to like in this film, including Paul Newman's standout performance and the sunny sights and cool sounds of California in the 1960s. But in comparison to the noir classics of the 1940s, this one is rather weak.

    The problem is with the slow beginning.

    Harper is hired to find out whether a millionaire has disappeared. It's not even clear that the man is actually missing, let alone that he is in any danger. And for the first 40 minutes or so, nothing much happens, except that the detective meets various characters, none of whom seem terribly concerned about the possible mystery. It's easy for the viewer's attention to lag.

    Once the action starts, the plot is much more fun, but if you're like me, you'll find yourself unclear about some of the clues that were strewn around in the beginning. And you'll have to think back on just who some of these characters are, and how they are linked to one another.

    Truly cerebral mystery fans may get into "Harper" from the beginning. I respect their ability to do. But I think the movie would have been more enjoyable with some of its action and suspense coming earlier. If you find the first 40 minutes a bit unclear, try watching them again before you watch the rest of the film. If you're willing to do so.