BR: Hickey & Boggs (1972)

July 13, 2016 | By

HickeyBoggs_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: n/a

Label: KINO Lorber

Region: A

Released: December 2, 2014

Genre:  Crime / Film Noir

Synopsis: Hired to find a girl, two low-rent private detectives become chief suspects in a series of murders and outrageous public shootouts.

Special Features:  Reversible sleeve art.

 


 

Review:

Hickey & Boggs could be described as a classic orphan film – a movie that vanished after its theatrical release and kind of rolled around TV stations in absolutely grubby full screen transfers that made it appear this effort to re-team I Spy’s Robert Culp and Bill Cosby on the big screen was shot on the cheap.

A grey market (bootleg) DVD materialized some time ago, but when the film later debuted on MGM’s HD channel, fans of this detective thriller / neo noir could finally see the movie as co-star / director Culp intended: shot in lovely 1.85:1 by Bill Butler (Demon Seed, Capricorn One). Although another bare bones release from KINO Lorber (Why not hire a film noir scholar to record a dissection of the genre as it underwent a small resurgence in the 1970s? Why not add an isolated score track? Add a trailer?), it meets the needs of fans wanting this grim, classic 1970s nihilistic tale of lousy lives ruined by wholly corrupt people in sunny L.A.

Culp’s only feature film as director draws from some of the resources and talent of his iconic TV series, with Fouad Said, I Spy’s foreign locations cinematographer, handling the producer chores. Said’s claim to fame was creating the Cinemobile, essentially a travelling camera truck packed with all the gear needed to shoot on the fly anywhere at anytime, an idea that Francis Ford Coppola borrowed in a more modest version for his road movie The Rain People (1969), also filmed by cinematographer Butler.

The use of industrial and inelegant L.A. locations adds huge value to a modestly budgeted production, and one can argue H&B was a rare 1970s neo-noir that gave a white and African American detectives equal stature in a classic hardboiled drama. Walter Hill’s first produced screenplay follows the format he’d retain in subsequent crime and police dramas, in which two characters are dragged through the mud yet emerge victorious in spite of a few bullet wounds, bruised ribs, or nasty welts. Women are rarely more than sexual furniture, and most end up dead (if not kidnapped) to fuel the rage of a hero, giving him the strength to quash a sicko or sadist.

More often than not, Hill tends to pair unlikely heroes whose abrasive relations smoothen as danger begets friendship, and during this ‘breaking in’ period, friction from cultural and moral differences  provides Hill with plenty of opportunities to lighten the film with doses of dry humour. Examples include the stoic vs. exploitive relationships between a boxer and a promoter in his directorial debut Hard Times (1975), the stoic male & female anti-hero and heroine in The Driver (1978), the tough cop and big mouth hustler in 48 HRS. (1982), the un-emotive Soviet ‘Gumby’ & big mouth American cop in Red Heat (1988), and the cop & hired killer in Bullet to the Head (2012).

Hill’s scripts have a built-in meanness – there’s always a necessary evil menace that pushes generally decent characters from law-abiding figures into moral grey zones where nastiness is returned in kind – and although Culp is best known as a character actor, H&B proved he could direct a crime film with a special adeptness.

Divorced Hickey (Cosby) and loner Boggs (Culp) accept some easy money to find a missing girl (a classic noir plotline) and become enmeshed in a messy revenge scheme plotted by a vengeful widow who reclaims cash from a hefty bank heist and hunts down her dead hubby’s killers. Or maybe it’s something a bit deeper. Toss in a socialist cult housed in a luxurious yet condemned Cliffside estate, hitmen driving and repeatedly trashing performance cars, a lot of drinking and cigar smoking, and a beachfront helicopter shootout, and you have a great nihilistic thriller where certainly in Hillsian terms, the two antiheroes – cynical, sexist, and mostly broke – have nothing to lose in the finale.

Early into the film, Hill’s plotting intensifies as the thugs’ murderous actions increasingly implicate H&B as trigger-happy killers, and inherent to Hill’s antiheroes is their uncanny ability to remain calm, react on instinct, and come up with a Plan C and D and E on the fly, which ultimately saves their hides.

Culp’s use of locations adds to the low-rent world of two sweaty boozing private dicks, and familiar character actors include Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man) as Hickey’s ex, Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) as her mother, Michael Moriarty (The Last Detail, Q: The Winged Serpent) as a slick ‘security manager’ for a corrupt businessman (played by Soap’s Robert Mandan), and angry cops (Vincent Gardenia, The Incredible Hulk’s Jack Colvin, and a young pre-Salvador James Woods). Also visible in small parts are Roger E. Mosely (Magnum P.I.) and prolific character actor Ed Lauter.

The score by little-known Ted Ashford (Scuba, The New Spartans, The Retrievers) is very subdued and blends with the bouts of sound design that enhance the film’s excellent action sequences, especially an extended shootout at a football stadium.

Culp’s overall directorial career was very sparse – an episode of I Spy (1966), two episodes of The Greatest American Hero (1982-1983), and the TV documentary Operation Breadbasket (1969) chronicling the eponymous charity organization – but he remained a prolific actor (mostly in TV) and would reappear with Cosby in the TV movie I Spy Returns (1994) and pop up in an episodes of The Cosby Show (1987) and Cosby (1999)

Said’s other films as producer include Across 110th Street (1972), The Deadly Trackers (1973), and Aloha, Bobby and Rose (1975) after which he switched from film to the oil industry.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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