"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

Thanks to the ongoing marvel that is Netflix Streaming, many previously hard to find and slept-on films are finding their way to our televisions, in fairly stunning quality. Recently I stumbled upon a movie I’d been seeking out for years and had basically given up on, Robert Culp’s 1972 detective film Hickey & Boggs.

Hickey & Boggs was one of a spate of revisionist private-eye movies that proliferated in the late 60s and early 70s, along with better known examples like The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973), Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975) and Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974). For years I only knew of it because it was always referenced in books about 1970s cinema, genre revisionism or neo noir – I’d never seen it on TV or in a video store. To me, Hickey & Boggs only existed as still photographs of director-star Culp and his co-star, Bill Cosby, holding .44 Magnums, so I was more than happy to find it available for instant streaming.

Despite the presence of Culp and his I Spy co-star Cosby, the film, written by then-rising star Walter Hill, is a downbeat affair. Al Hickey (the Cos) and Frank Boggs (Culp) are partners in a two man Los Angeles private eye firm, ex-cops and divorced losers. Boggs is an alcoholic whose stripper ex-wife likes to taunt him from the stage (“Eat your heart out.”) and Hickey is desperate to repair his family and be a father and husband again, but his ex (Rosalind Cash) is having none of it.  Hickey and Boggs are broke, financially and spiritually.

The two are hired by a creepy, possibly pedophile lawyer named Rice to find a missing girl, which brings them deep into a web of gangsters, thugs, black militants and stolen mob money.  The closer they get to cracking the case, the deeper the hole they dig themselves. The bad guys want them dead and the cops want them out of the way or in jail. What’s worse is that they can’t even figure out why they’re putting themselves through all of this. “It’s not about anything,” Hickey repeatedly complains. And while they carry the same enormous, deadly pistol as Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, they don’t share his deadly accuracy. “I gotta get a bigger gun,” Boggs complains, “I can’t hit anything anymore.”

Hickey & Boggs was the only film Culp directed, and it’s a pity he didn’t go behind the camera again. The film is well-paced, well-acted and Culp has a good sense of the city and the contrast between the dark places the characters go and the bright, sun-bleached, wide open expanses the action often plays itself out in (the L.A. Coliseum, the beach, a collapsing hillside mansion). Hill’s script was supposedly written for Jason Robards and Strother Martin, which makes one wonder if the original intent was to get Culp’s good friend Sam Peckinpah to direct. No matter, Culp makes the most of the material and gives a very generous performance, allowing for really nice work from the rest of the cast (including a very young James Woods and Michael Moriarty) to shine.

The biggest impression is made by Cosby. Cosby gets a couple sardonic one-liners in, but this is a straight dramatic role, with his character going to some pretty dark places emotionally, and he’s excellent. He’s always believable and always seems to be giving each scene the proper energy.  Sadly, the film didn’t do well, and Cosby spent the bulk of the remainder of the 1970s in silly (albeit fun) comedies with Sidney Poitier. What a shame that he wasn’t given more of a chance to shine as a dramatic actor during those peak years. Hickey & Boggs provides a tantalizing “What if?”

For fans of Cosby, Culp or neo-noir, Hickey & Boggs is a must-see.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 2:34 pm

Matt, this is tremendous. THANK YOU!

2 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 2:42 pm

Definitely should mention that the Culp/Cosby pairing foreshadows Hill's own 48 Hours with Nolte & Murphy.

Wasn't Kael a big Walter Hill fan?

3 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 2:51 pm

Oh, she sure was. Man, she really liked "Southern Comfort" which is too scary/depressing for me to watch all the way through. '48 Hours" is Eddie at his best, I think. Much better than "Beverly Hills Cop" which is fun, but cheesy and tame. '48 Hours" is violent as hell but the vulgarity is good, decidedly un-p.c.

4 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 2:55 pm

[3] Yeah, I really like The Long Riders, but I don't think Hill's career really lived up to Pauline's hype, though he's still at it (did some nice work on Deadwood).

Give her credite - when she swooned over a young filmmaker, she went whole hog. DePalma was another of her pet directors.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 2:59 pm

5) She loved early Spielberg and Scorsese too. Obvisouly, Peckinpaugh and Altman were tops for her. But also Paul Mazursky.

6 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:11 pm

I was about to give you grief for misspelling "Peckinpah," until I realized I'd misspelled "credit."

Yeah, she and Peckinpah had an interesting relationship. She called STRAW DOGS a "facist work of art." Sam told her she was full of shit, but not without affection.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:18 pm

I don't know about facist but I didn't like that one. But hell, she loved just about everything else the man did.

8 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:25 pm

[7] If memory serves, it was generally a positive review! Peckinpah responded saying that he had drank with Kael and liked her but that with her "facist" quip she was "...cracking walnuts with her ass."

9 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:27 pm

Back to the original topic - Alex, you're a Cosby fan, no? You should give the movie a look.

10 wsporter   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:41 pm

Saw this in HS when it first came out. I was (and remain) a big 'I Spy' fan and was disappointed that Culp and Cos didn't share the same easy friendship and banter that makes 'I Spy' still so much fun. The movie was paned and I was disappointed. I really didn't like seeing "Scotty and Kelly" at such a low ebb. I saw it again some years later and couldn't believe I didn't "get it" my first time through. To know you've lost even before you wake up in the morning and still try is a little bit about life but it doesn't make for particularly happy or escapist viewing. I guess you have to have played and lost some to get there and to be able to appreciate it. It's a movie that's well worth looking into. Thanks Matt.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:42 pm

Huge Cosby fan but never loved the UPTOWN SAT NIGHT flicks. Yeah, I'll watch this, which I've only seen in pieces. Thanks, Snoops.

12 Raf   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:45 pm

You may also want to check out Bill Cosby in "Mother, Jugs and Speed" if you like him in dark, dramatic roles.

13 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:46 pm

[11] I liked them when I was a kid, but I can't imagine sitting through them now.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:55 pm

Not even for John Amos? LOL

15 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 3:57 pm

[12] Yeah, I dig that one, too - Cosby, Keitel, Raquel Welch...and Allen Garfield - what a super 70s cast!

16 Raf   ~  Feb 11, 2011 4:04 pm

I have "Uptown Saturday Night" in my collection. It's definitely a period piece. I like watching Rosalind Cash and Denise Nicholas (Piece of the Action & Let's Do It Again). Soundtracks were pretty goof too.

17 Raf   ~  Feb 11, 2011 4:06 pm

[15] Larry Hagman too!

18 Raf   ~  Feb 11, 2011 4:07 pm

[16] That should read *good* Though given the dress of the time, it was pretty goofy too

19 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 11, 2011 4:27 pm

[10] Thank you - I think you nailed the movie as well.

20 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 11, 2011 5:00 pm

I knew I would have something to say on this topic... there has been word for about a year now of Denzel and Will Smith teaming up to do a remake of Uptown Saturday Night. I have mixed feelings about that; Denzel's so far removed from comedy it would be almost an unpleasant shock unless he was completely parodying himself.

21 Raf   ~  Feb 11, 2011 6:40 pm

[20] Is the remake supposed to be a comedy? They may be playing it straight.

22 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 11, 2011 7:18 pm

[21] It's been talked about as a comedy (with some action). Not sure if it will happen anytime soon; both have nearly three dozen priority projects between and it sounds like it's still in development hell, but you never know.

23 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 12, 2011 5:18 am

[0] Never even heard of this before, got to catch it!
[22] That would be a shocking waste of celluloid...I wish Will Smith would go away...

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