The Cos and Bill Maxwell Take on the Outfit
One of the great things about my job writing for Comic Book Resources is that I meet many cool writers, and a lot of them have really good tastes. So I get introduced to a lot of cool stuff. The most recent example of this is Duane Swierczynski, writer of some Marvel Comics’ excellent “Cable” series and some kick-ass crime novels, introduced me to an obscure ’70s detective movie via his blog. I really enjoyed it. It was called “Hickey & Boggs”
“Hickey & Boggs” is a grim, violent, private detective movie starring . . . wait for it Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Now my parents’ generation knew the Cos and Culp best as the stars of the old show “I, Spy” which I’ve never seen an episode of, but I hear it’s a pretty good and pretty serious show. I was introduced to Bill Cosby first through things like “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and his classic stand up special “Bill Cosby Himself”. And of course later as Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”. Robert Culp I knew best from his role as FBI agent Bill Maxwell on “The Greatest American Hero”.
Comedy was a big part of all of those things. So I wasn’t used to seeing either actor in serious roles. So it was fun to watch Cliff Huxtable say, “Mother fuck” and blow some guys away with his .357. Plus both actors nailed the serious scenes, Cosby especially. There’s a development in the latter half of the movie that leaves his character a haunted and angry man and the Cos nails it.
That’s not to say that there aren’t funny bits in the movie either. The chemistry between Cosby and Culp is very apparent. The movie is pretty bleak, but you buy that these characters are long time friends that will walk through hell for each other. This leads to some fun, joking moments that occasionally have a buddy picture feel.
Culp does double duty in the film as a director, and for a first time director he’s pretty damn good. There’s a lot of shots that give you extra information about the characters and the story and they do so subtly. The film rarely hits you over the head with anything. Plus the film’s action sequences: shoot outs at an LA football arena, a parking lot, and a climatic beach gun fight are all pretty exciting.
The story of “Hickey and Boggs” is admittedly more than a little complex and convoluted. The title characters are Private investigators hired to find a missing women. They’re investigation has many twists and turns and eventually puts them in conflict with both The Outfit (the all powerful ’60s-’70s incarnation of the mob) and a militant black power group. All of the connections in Walter Hill’s script can be hard to pick up on, but interesting enough they don’t really matter because at one point Cosby’s disillusioned character says of his job, “It’s about nothing anymore.” And a way he’s right.
What’s important about “Hickey & Boggs” is the journey these characters go on. It’s a violent one. It beats the hell out of them emotionally and physically and it’s pretty fascinating to watch. Like some of the best noirs it ends with the main characters trying to do what they feel is right and get some payback. And of course the end result is never what they bargained for.
Another fun aspect of “Hickey & Boggs” is that it’s filled with some recognizable actors, and a number of them would go on to bigger fame. Vincent Gardenia (Little Shop of Horror’s Mr. Mushnick) and James Woods play cops. Michael Moriarty (Law & Order) has hair in the movie and he works for the mob. Other actors with smaller roles include Ed Lauter ( character actor who’s been in a ton of stuff) as a cop and Roger E. Mosley (T.C. from Magnum P.I.) as a black millitant.
So if your fan of ’70s style noir and crime films do yourself a favor and see “Hickey & Boggs”. It’s a pretty great and entertaining movie. The DVD is out of print and from what I understand you don’t want to see it anyway because the picture quality is terrible. iTunes has a nice quality copy available to both rent or buy. That’s what I did and I wasn’t disappointed.