Hickey & Boggs Jul 2, 2010 18:12:27 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Jul 2, 2010 18:12:27 GMT -5
70s. L.A. Buddy. P.I.s. Okay, that should be all some need to recommend this gritty, forgotten curiosity from 1972.
The picture reunites the stars of the landmark TV Series I SPY: Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, with Culp behind the camera as well. If audiences expected to see good-natured bantering and camaraderie, they didn’t get it here. The guy’s are world-weary private eyes who sense they’re anachronisms, as they wind their way through a case that takes an increasingly high toll on them.
The somewhat confusing plot revolves around the two being hired to track down a mysterious woman who is making the rounds in LA trying to sell money, that is, trying to find a fence who will take the marked loot from a bank hold-up off her hands.
Watching H&B, it’s a little surprising to remember what a commanding screen presence Cosby was in the days before he became a sit-com icon. By this point, he’d been a huge stand-up, but both the TV shows he’d starred in had been on film, and as Hickey he showcases his effortless command of the camera. Watching him here, it’s easy to imagine he could have taken on similar roles in other 70s fare.
Culp’s an interesting case, a terrific actor who despite the smash BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, never took off with a big screen career. He’s superb, with a Redford-like unpredictable charisma and that crackling William Holden-esque voice. He has a scene late in this picture, which is a drunken pep talk to Cosby that is perfectly played.
He also wrote episodes ofI SPY and H&B is pretty damn impressive as his only directorial credit. Of course, he handles the scenes with the actors well, but he also brings to the whole picture a deft, laconic style. And this film is very well edited! Short, choppy scenes create a cool rhythm. A rendezvous at the LA Coliseum is teased out by quick back-and-forth cuts, such that the whole thing is much more effective than it has any right to be. A later similar stakeout scene, with the detectives in their car, ends with a nice Altman-like moving pan. It’s only in the film’s shoot-em-up climax that things get a little less assured and prosaic.
Hickey & Boggs is well written by Walter Hill. There are lots of brief dialogue-less scenes that build the tension. In fact, all the scenes with the woman at the center of the story are word-less. When the partners are alone we get some nice moments whether they’re in some dive bar or their crummy office. Maybe best of all, in one scene Boggs asks Hickey with quiet seriousness:” Have you ever killed anyone? In the United States?” That’s a nice way of telling us these two have been around the block, in the service, and have done ugly things they’d like to forget. This fact informs the cynicism we watch grow thought the film.
Like other films from the same era, H&B has a nasty preoccupation with homosexuality. The guys’ original client is a mincing queen (referred to as a “sweet-lips”) who, for some never explained reason, we see sunbathes next to a playground. Later Hickey’s woman refers to Bogg as his “fag partner.” Although, for a while I thought maybe Boggs was gay. We see Hickey’s messy romantic life, but while Boggs tells his partner some strange story about his ex, we don’t see her, and the person he has sex with in their office, I wasn’t sure if it was a transvestite. Later, we do see his ex and find that she’s a stripper. That’s not the only dated touch of misogyny though, as the boys refer to the woman they’re tracking as “that bitch” repeatedly.
The picture has a good cast. Seventies mainstay Vincent Gardenia shows up as their nemesis on the force whose boss is played by James Woods (?!?!) who must be all of 21. One of the badguys is played by that grinning, baby-faced enigma Michael Moriarty. Hickey’s love interest is the radiant Rosalind Cash.
If you love 70s detective cinema, you have to check this out. The cars, the suits, the locations, the style. And the seriousness of the solid filmmaking. In fact, I suspect if this film had the name of another director on it – like Don Siegel or Robert Aldrich – it wouldn’t have fallen by the wayside as it has. It’s a tribute to Culp the director that it still holds up, and doesn’t feel at all dated. It’s further tribute to him and his partner Cosby, that’s it’s so watchable.