Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A minor detective classic from the early 70s with a lot of major qualities gets a very weak
DVD release. Fans of Bill Cosby, Robert Culp and Walter Hill will perhaps want to take their
chances with the disc anyway.
Al Hickey and Frank Boggs (Bill Cosby and Robert Culp) are in a sorry state as
private detectives. Both are separated from hostile wives and their shabby detective agency is so
hard-pressed for cash that they can receive phone calls but not make them. They take on a job to
locate a missing girl named Mary Ann and land right in the middle of a drug deal involving loan
sharks, mob operatives, professional hit men and radical revolutionaries. The cops
are on their case too, but the partnership perseveres to to the bitter and violent end.
Hickey and Boggs got lots of praise in print but was a complete bust in the theaters. Sadly,
the Cosby-Culp teaming from television didn't bring in the fans; audiences primed for
something witty and light must have been completely turned off by the grim adventures of two of the
most dour private detectives ever put on screen. Cosby broods about his estranged family and
his wife (Rosalind Cash) doesn't see reconciliation in the cards. Culp veers
toward alcoholism and watches in a drunken stupor while his ex-wife, a stripper, taunts him from
the runway: "Eat your heart out." The partners meet in bars to discuss the miserable state of their
business. I doubt they they smile once during the whole show.
Walter Hill's screenplay is a critique of the detective genre. Like Robert Altman's
The Long Goodbye, it works best for
the refined genre fan who knows his Raymond Chandlers from his Burke's Law and can appreciate
Hickey and Boggs' fall from grace.
Instead of helping anybody as detective should, the partners immediately know that they are being
cynically used by criminal clients. The man who hires them to track down Mary Ann (who turns out to
be not a lost girl but a ruthless drug runner and) is introduced as a child molester. Al Hickey barely
registers the obviousness of that. As they get sucked into what looks like a major crime ring, no
code of honor or oath to a suffering widow keeps them on the case. Even though they comment that "this
job doesn't mean anything anymore," they hang in there out of simple obstinancy and a need to assert
their self identity. If they wouldn't quit sleuthing to save their marriages, they'll be damned if a
bunch of criminal scum can make them.
The stakes get higher as all four sides of the intrigue - crooks, revolutionaries, cops and detectives -
underestimate each other and the violence escalates. Excellent Los Angeles location filming
concentrates on few recognizable locales but carries the flavor of the burnt-out malice of the LA
There's a standout broad-daylight shootout in a giant football stadium that credibly shows what
might happen if a drug drop was interrupted with high-powered rifles and machine guns.
The casting is excellent, with director Robert Culp (a long-time pal of Sam Peckinpah) effortlessly
guiding his characters through good genre situations; Hickey & Boggs reminds a bit of the
revisionist malaise in Peckinpah's TV show The Westerner. Michael Moriarity, Vincent
Gardenia, Ed Lauter and James Woods have impressive early career bit parts as various cops and hit-men.
Mary Ann (Carmen) and her revolutionary lover Quemando (Louis Moreno) are convincing Latins who become
sympathetic trying to clear their deal against a tide of avaricious mobsters.
There's plenty of violence and a dandy concluding shootout on a beach, but Hickey & Boggs was probably
just too much of a downer to appeal to wide audiences. 2
Action pictures of the time tended to be broader fantasies with humor and a lighter touch; heavy-duty
cop shows like Badge 373 and The Friends of Eddie Coyle passed quietly. There's a
scene in the picture where Hickey suffers a blow to his family and his whole life goes sour; from
that point on there's little hope of anything pleasant happening. By the time of the final showdown
our heroes seem to be going through the motions propelled only by existential inertia.
Robert Culp's direction can stand alongside any genre filmmaker's and dwarfs the later work
of his screenwriter Walter Hill. It's possible that movie directing was Culp's real calling, and it's a
shame this joyless but superior effort didn't work out for him.
AIP's DVD of Hickey and Boggs is barely professional quality. The image is grainy and has
lots of jumps as if it were
a temp transfer from a spliced print. There are frequent old-style analog video hits that make it look
as if it might have been mastered from a 3/4 or even a VHS copy of the movie. The color is flat,
although the image looks to have been hit with some form of enhancement - some scenes look fairly
attractive, although the dark bar interiors don't fare very well.
The crowning flaw is time compression. Culp and Cosby's voices are too high in pitch, action is
crisp and accelerated, and the 111 minute show is over in just under 107 minutes without any obvious
missing scenes. I think it's a PAL transfer converted back to NTSC. I have an okay VHS of the film
taped from the TCM channel on a night with just fair cable reception: It looks and plays better.
The gross editorial goof in the cover text doesn't add to one's confidence. 3
Hickey & Boggs is a superior picture that many fans want to see. If one is willing to settle
for sub-graymarket quality while waiting for a "real" DVD release, this disc may be acceptable. I only
hope that the film is not Public Domain. If that's the case, then this release may make an official
disc mastered from better source material an uncommercial prospect.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hickey & Boggs rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 22, 2004
1. Location-truck and
camera system magnate Faoud Said produced the picture, so the fluidity of filming makes sense.
2. It's also possible that UA lacked confidence in the movie and
distributed it weakly; you'd think a movie with Cosby and Culp would at least open.
3. The cover text reads: "They're not cool slick heroes. They're worn,
tough men and that's that (sic) makes them so dangerous." I make goofs like that five times in a
web review, but this is the cover of a DVD, for Pete's sake.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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