Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hickey & Boggs (1972) Smog Noir "its not about anything"

(SLWB - March 31, 2015)

Directed by Robert Culp, Written by Walter Hill, Starring Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Rosalind Cash, Isabel Sanford, Sheila Sullivan, Carmen Cristina Moreno, Louis Moreno, Robert Mandan, Michael Moriarty, Bill Hickman, Vincent Gardenia, Ed Lauter, and James Woods.

Al Hickey (Cosby) and Frank Boggs (Culp) are two ex LAPD cops scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to make ends meet as PI's in the brown haze of the smoggy gas guzzler dominated LA of the seventies.  Their office is a back room accessed from a parking lot through a dilapidated peeling panel door, they can't pay their phone bill and the answering service so they opt for the service which they can check from phone booths. They dine on chillidogs from a street vendor and strategize the case at their local bar. Hickey drives a '62 Chevy Nova and is estranged from his wife & daughter, Boggs is a boozer, has a dented '61 T-bird, watches his ex-wife Elaine dance at a Live Nude Girl joint enduring her "eat your heart out" verbal jabs, and pays prostitutes at 20 bucks a pop.

Frank Boggs (Culp) lt., and Al Hickey (Cosby) 

Super Chief arriving at Union Station
Smoggy City Of Angels

 Carmen (Moreno) with L.A. City Hall in the background

The film nicely transitions through Tinseltown's classic Film Noir icons of the past, the classic streamlined silver Super Chief "F" units, Union Station, and the Los Angeles City Hall to the smog shrouded broken dream downtown of 1970s.

Chilli dogs
The tale starts when a creepy pedophile-ish lawyer named Rice hires the team to just find his "wife" Mary Jane (Carmen Cristina Moreno). Rice works for Leroy the head of a black power organization. Mary Jane is really the wife of Quemando (Louis Moreno) who held up a federal reserve bank in Pittsburgh for $400,000. She just hit town on the Super Chief and is trying to unload the hot money to various factions around SOCAL by mailing $1000 dollar samples to them, one of which is syndicate mobster Brill (Robert Mandan) who bankrolled the original heist.

Nyona (Rosalind Cash)
Boggs and ex wife/Live Nude Girl Edith
Papadakis (Gardinia)
Lt. Wyatt (James Woods)

Ballard (Michael Moriarty)

Brill (Robert Mandan)
Given a list of leads, Hickey & Boggs begin a strange journey through the miasma of decadence and decay of The City Of Angels that one usually never saw, LA's chamber of commerce should have had a coronary. The film is filled with the ambient sounds of roaring freeway traffic, passing disembodied conversations and pounding surf.

The various leads our boys encounter make a nice cross section weird characters, nobody seems normal except for the  the Mexican American family and they are the bank robbers.

Hickey in the course of the tale discovers a dead lead and then Boggs uncovers a hidden envelope containing the sample bills in his house. After reporting the murder to the police and the discovery of the bills the authorities match the serial numbers to the Pittsburgh heist Hickey & Boggs are informed of a $25,000 reward. Now the boys have a motivated goal.


Living on the edge LA style

The detectives Hickey & Boggs are similar to their earlier counterparts in spirit but here in this film they have lost the power to change their situations. In part I think this is more the fault of the screenplay. Whether the original Walter Hill screenplay or Bill Culp's changes or studio suits are to blame is worth investigating. In classic hard boiled stories the confrontations were small scale, the stories convoluted but still simple. Here, our two dicks are out gunned in three confrontations even battling helicopter mounted machine guns at the final denouement. This may be an effect of the increasing popularity of the Action Genre in the 70's and trying to modernize a traditional noir story into an action film rather than any statement of the ineffectuality of a private dick in the modern world. But they do win in the end but at a big cost.

A film not without faults 8/10.

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