Sunday, July 04, 2010

Hickey & Boggs

I finally caught up with the film Hickey & Boggs after all these years. Amazon offers a buy for ten bucks and a rent for three. I may be wrong about this but the version I saw may be the tv edit. There are a few odd breaks that might be at the service of a truckload of commercials and the language is awful clean.

But whatever this is one fine film. The script is by Walter Hill back when he cared as much about character as he did action set pieces. Robert Culp stars in and directed this unique and troubling private eye film. The biggest shock to me was the quiet, nuanced performance by Bill Cosby, who walked away with the movie. I've never much cared for Cosby's acting. He mugs too much. I suspect that he and Culp had long conversations about how to approach this part. Or maybe Cosby did it on his own.

The set-up is a suitcase with four hundred thousand dollars stolen from a Boston bank a few years before the film opens. A gay guy who plays it a little too stereotypically gay hires Hickey & Boggs to locate a woman he'd like to see again. He doesn't say why nor does he tell them that she happens to be the one with all the money.

The scenes with Cosby and Rosalind Cash have the painful truth of a marriage gone bad. Cash is as good as Cosby here. Robert Mandan (tv and stage primarily) really works as the bully boy businessman who also happens to be a crook. You can imagine him on Wall Street today.

Hill gets in a wry dig at rich liberals who like to walk on the wild side just to show how liberal they really are. The very attractive and very white widow of a rich man let's a version of The Black Panthers stay in her house and basically take it over. There are many honest black people who need help. Hill and Culp make it clear these guys ain't among that number.

Culp's camera never rests. This film MOVES. Among many, many excellent set-pieces the trap-and-chase in the football stadium stands tallest. Culp's camera sees the stadium seats as shifting mathematical symbols. The finale is one of the most exciting--I actually jerked in my seat at one point, something I rarely do--in years.

Michael Moriaty is good as a well-dressed hired killer and Isabel Sanford does well with her brief moments. My only objection is to Vincent Gardenia's scenes as the cranky homicide chief who keeps threatening (yelling) to yank the private eye licenses of Hickey & Boggs. I mean this was a hoary trope back when this was filmed in `72. It had no power then. Amazing that it's still on so many tv shows yet today.

Go out of your way to see this movie. It is a fine film in nearly every regard and a testament to both Culp and Cosby.


Lee Goldberg said...

It's a great movie. I saw it a few months back in a marathon of 70s detective movies I staged for myself. You have to catch NIGHT MOVES (with Gene Hackman) if you haven't seen it already. And THE DROWNING POOL, while it's no where near as good as HARPER, is under-rated. Both movies feature a very young Melanie Griffith essentially playing the same role...

Ed Gorman said...

Night Moves is one of my favorites. I just finished reading The Drowning Pool for probably the tenth time. I'll check out the movie version, Lee.