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 hard-boiled mystery genre onscreen.Being a longtime Macdonald fan, I sure hope that Silver, together with executive producers Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman, can deliver a film that’s both faithful to the author’s intentions and appealing to modern viewers. Yet I’m skeptical, because I’ve seen Hollywood’s interest in Archer wax and wane over the decades.
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) ...
Tipping My Fedora rightly observes that in addition to Newman’s attempts to bring Lew Archer to the silver screen (see clips from Harper here and here), there have been a couple of efforts to make Macdonald’s Los Angeles private eye a TV star. The first was a pretty good 1974 pilot film, The Underground Man, adapted by screenwriter Douglas Heyes from Macdonald’s 1971 novel of the same name and starring Peter Graves. Unfortunately, Graves’ teleflick--introduced with a fabulous theme composed by Marvin Hamlisch--failed to spawn a weekly series. But the idea was revived just one year later in Archer, a NBC-TV mid-season replacement series that cast Brian Keith in the lead. Sadly, Keith’s Archer lacked the compassion or psychological understanding of the original, and the stories offered in Archer were nothing better than typical TV P.I. fare. (Keith proposed further divorcing Archer from its source material by moving the action from Southern California to Hawaii and setting the detective up in a houseboat, à la Travis McGee.) Few people were sorry to see Archer--with its far inferior opening theme by Jerry Goldsmith--go bye-bye after just six episodes.
Joel Silver, with his evident fondness for action pictures, doesn’t seem the natural fit to make a film or series of films about an introspective, old-school gumshoe who doesn’t always have the answers his troubled clients demand. However, with the right scriptwriter and a credible star, The Galton Case might have a shot. We shall see.