Tuesday, February 20, 2007

HICKEY & BOGGS (1972) - Robert Culp

Hickey & Boggs is a noteworthy flick for a few reasons. It's the first and only feature film directed by actor Robert Culp. It's very first produced screenplay by writer-director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours). It apparently held and still holds the record (according to Culp) for the most camera set-ups ever pulled off on the streets of L.A. (before the streets of L.A. became the streets of Toronto). And it can be argued that Hickey and Boggs is THE template for all the bi-racial buddy cop movies that sprouted up in the 80's, from the Lethal Weapon series to Walter Hill's own 48 Hours ten years later. So, with all that pedigree, the question is...why is this sucker not on DVD?

Answer: Hollywood Economics (i.e., it tanked at the box office when it came out). Plus, the property's been bounced around to several studio libraries over the years as they went in and out of business (MGM most notably). According to Culp, it currently resides at Paramount where interest is ABSOLUTE ZERO in giving it a proper DVD dump. Apparently, Culp, a solid film and TV legend, doesn't have the pull to get it released, even with "the Cos" as his co-star.

Thus, a trip out to Santa Monica was in order this weekend when I discovered they were having a rare screening with Culp himself in the hizz-ouse. Granted, Santa Monica's not THAT far of a drive, but it takes a lot to get me to that side of town these days. So I trekked. And it was worthwhile. This is a solid 70's cop movie. Solid for the same reasons why it must have tanked at the box office. For one, Culp and Cosby don't play any of the scenes for laughs. There are jokes aplenty, but the delivery is bone-dry. The humor is never milked. Rather, it curdles -- a sour mix of sarcasm and world-weariness that fits these two very-down-on-their-luck private investigators to a tee. I'm guessing this approach probably confounded audience members turning up expecting a two hour episode of I Spy. Also, Culp and Cosby aren't particularly likable guys in this. Like many Walter Hill cops to come, there are issues with alcohol, ex-wives, prostitutes, parking meters, etc. In other words, they're kinda like real life cops. And no one ever says "I'm too old for this shit." Or does Three Stooges impressions. Or pulls a mansion off a hill with a truck.

Other reasons why this solid '70s flick needs a DVD release...

1) It's Cosby in serious actor mode, rare and interesting to behold. No mugging or Pudding Pops. The dude had some chops.

2) It's got a very, very young James Woods in one of his first film roles...and in tidy whities no less.

3) Robert Culp has a lot of interesting stories to tell about the production which would make for a damn fine commentary track. One involves a car that they shot up for the climax which later turned out to be the actual car used in the actual French Connection smuggling scam.

4) So I don't have to drive out to Santa Monica every time I want to see a quality flick.

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