Here at Park Circus it’s true to say we love all the films in our catalogue. However, with over 12,000 in there, sometimes one or two can get overlooked.
One such film is 1972’s Hickey & Boggs, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. The pair starred in 1960s TV show, I Spy, but this was a far cry from those super cool escapades, perhaps part of the reason the critics and fans didn’t take it to their hearts.
Things have started to look up for Hickey & Boggs in recent years, a small group of movie aficionados around the world spreading the word that this is something of a lost classic.
US-based Marvel Comics writer and cult crime novelist, Duane Swierczynski, has written extensively about the film on his blog, Secret Dead. Duane kindly agreed to us republishing one of his Hickey & Boggs posts, offering a fans-eye view of the film which we hope inspires more love for Frank and Al.
A few years ago I became a huge fan of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, thanks to Terrill Lankford and Michael Connelly. Huge to the point of rewatching it two, three times a year, because I see something new each time. And just a few weeks ago, I was turned on to Night Moves, the Gene Hackman/Arthur Penn P.I. classic, thanks to both Ed Pettit and Lee Goldberg.
Now I’ve found the private eye movie that completes the trilogy (in my own head, anyway): Hickey & Boggs, starring (and directed by) Robert Culp, and written by the legendary Walter Hill.
All three films are essentially about the same thing: the death of the private eye as we know it. Altman called his version of Chandler’s hero “Rip Van Marlowe,” implying that he took a very big sleep somewhere in the 1940s and woke up in the hazy, lazy crazy days of the early 1970s.
In Night Moves, Gene Hackman’s Harry Moseby is a little more in step with modern times, but not much. He’s hopelessly out of his depth, both metaphorically and literally, within the first 15 minutes of the movie, and he sinks deeper, and deeper, and deeper.
The same goes with Frank Boggs (Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby, in one of his few…maybe only?…non-comedic roles). They’re two private eyes so down on their luck, they have to decide between paying the bill for their answering service vs. the bill for their actual phone.
And soon, they’re embroiled in a case involving a virtual United Nations of bad guys: slick white Organization torpedoes, Latino bank robbers, and a militant black power group.
They’re hopelessly outnumbered, hopelessly outgunned. But unlike Marlowe and Moseby, Hickey & Boggs are painfully self-aware about their predicament, and more importantly, their obsolescence. “Nobody came, nobody cares,” Hickey says at one point. “It’s still about nothing.”
Culp and Hill also pack a ton of story into small, spare moments. There’s a scene where Boggs goes to see his ex-wife, who is hardly ever mentioned, and it still manages to be one of the most devastating moments of the film. There is no backstory given, no voice-over, no expository dialogue…but it’s still all there for you, every bitter painful moment of their marriage, in the little details of their exchange.
I can think of a dozen films where a subplot like this has been beaten to death, but none packs the emotional punch that Culp gives you here. And Hickey & Boggs is full of moments like this. The film never spoon-feeds you. It forces you to keep your eyes open.
If you love your private eyes pushed to the point of oblivion, if you think the best crime films were made in the 1970s, and love a good neo-noir that plays out in broad daylight, I very much recommend tracking down Hickey & Boggs.
Thanks to Duane Swierczynski.
Have you seen Hickey & Boggs? Do you prefer it to other, better known, crime films? Let us know below.