BluRay/DVD Reviews

HICKEY AND BOGGS

By • Sep 20th, 2011 •

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One day in the mid-90s, while I was the managing editor of The Perfect Vision magazine, I heard that Robert Culp was in town and immediately tried to swing an interview. His handler told me that the Actor/Writer/Director was only willing to speak with people who had seen HICKEY AND BOGGS, one of the two feature films he had directed. Fortunately I had. Moreover I loved the film and felt that there was plenty to talk about despite the fact that since its release in 1972 the film was near-impossible to find, so I was going to be relying on memory. But who could forget this Yang to the TV series I SPY’s Ying, with a dissolute Boggs (Culp) sitting in a bar staring up pitifully at his ex-wife as she strips on stage and hurls insults at him. [* An excerpt from my unpublished 40-page interview with Robert Culp, circa 1994]

H&B is a latter day, or neo, Noir. It’s not so much revisionist or parody (like Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE) as it is relentlessly post-love-era bleak. Shot cheap and gritty, consciously straying from narrative clarity and leaning on a kind of low-key experimental editorial style, it is as memorable as it is bereft of traditional Hollywood flesh and blood. So glad that MGM has seen fit to dredge it out of the vaults for an archive release. Apparently there were copyright issues, because MVD released it on DVD several years ago, mastered from a damaged, cruddy source that made its already sleazy look into Billy Wilder’s [erroneous] description of Ingmar Bergman’s films as looking like they’d been shot through a tissue that someone had blown their nose in.

Culp the director grants his co-star the more developed role and the lion’s share of cutaways. But Cosby is no Culp, who was a gifted, creative actor given to making memorable and surprising choices when interpreting scenes or shots, and he does enough of that here to outshine Cosby, even in the smaller role. Cosby was capable of better but, directed to interpret Hickey as terminally subdued, he mostly comes across as grim and unreadable.

If you have a Film Noir shelf, this is a keeper. Also pick up the discs with the episodes of I SPY that Culp directed and/or wrote (his favorite of which, he told me, was MIRROR MIRROR) and put them next to H&B on the shelf. Culp does the commentaries on those I SPYs – the only ones he ever did to my knowledge, and they are meticulously detailed and enlightening. He also wrote a lovely article for me, published in TPV, remembering his friendship with Sam Peckinpah. If you can find it (issue number 23, October 1994), you’re in for some terrific prose and vivid memories.

*

ROY FRUMKES: Two weeks ago, before I knew I was going to be able to meet you, I was walking past a strip joint down on Broadway and it just came back to me, that shot of you staring at your ex-wife, dancing. That image has persisted for over twenty years.

ROBERT CULP: Walter Hill’s screenplay formed the basis for HICKEY AND BOGGS. I talked to him. We had lunch together. I said “Come and do the rewrite.” He said, “I can’t. I’m working for Peckinpah, I can’t get away.” And I said, “Fine, then I’m gonna do the rewrite.” He said, “God love ya. Go ahead.” So I did the rewrite and he was stunned. He was very, very disappointed. He hated it.

RF: Really?

RC: Really hated it. Well, he wanted 48 HOURS. That’s what it was supposed to be. He shoulda kissed me, for god’s sake. I gave him a chance to get a few pictures in before he did 48 HOURS so he could update it and make a hit out of it. It wasn’t ready then.

Anyway, pass on Walter Hill. Not a subject I should deal with. I went away to the mountains and wrote a scene – we were talking about this on the plane coming to New York. There was a scene – I had seventeen reels of cut picture and so I threw out the equivalent of about a week’s work out of a picture that took five weeks to shoot. I shot in such detail for that picture that there was so much left over that we had to throw alot away. It was really wasteful. I learned an awful lot about timing a picture from directing that piece, and doing so much of it, you know, shooting from the hip. Doing it all alone with no back up.

The setting for that scene you remembered was in a nightclub called The Pink Pussycat, in Los Angeles, a place for nude dancers on the Sunset Strip. I said “I know where Hickey [Cosby] comes from, but I haven’t the faintest idea where Boggs [Culp] comes from. I gotta know where he comes from just from a flashback. Something just kicks him off.” Now, I know this guy’s a borderline alkie. I said, “He’s drunk. He’s sitting in this joint, and memories start to come unbidden, and he’s totally taken away by it, and one of those dancers is behind him. The dancer working behind him was totally nude, which was not permissible in those days. The camera came around in front of him and he just dissolved. He went to pieces completely and there were these cuts that came in, to this old man. I was gonna get Dick Farnsworth to do it. This old man and a horse in the sunset working against the side of a hill. And there was gonna be this little boy, just talking to this old man on the horse against the sunset. No words at all. You would know who Frank was and where he came from. Just a memory out of his childhood. I shot one half of it and realized I was going to have to throw that half away, so I never shot the other half of the old man and the horse and the kid.

I had the money three times and lost it three times. The pre-production period involved me and my eldest son, who is now a production designer, who was twelve at the time. The pre-production period went on and on and on. I mean, I was fifty thousand dollars down out of pocket. Fouad Said, who had shot “I Spy,” and developed Cinemobile into a huge company by this time, three years after “I Spy,” walked in the door one day and said “What’s the problem?” And I said “Fouad, this is the problem. I don’t have any money and I gotta make this movie and I gotta make it quick, or I’m gonna lose Bill.” And he said, “Is no problem.” He went down to the bank and hocked his company. Every dime. He hocked his own stock in his own company, put it up as collateral at the bank, and we got the money and we made the movie.

HICKEY AND BOGGS was one of those bizarre situations where a picture dropped through the cracks and was never released on video. If you go down to any video store in the metropolitan area, you cannot find HICKEY AND BOGGS. It does not exist. And so, in effect, it’s like the picture was never made. I haven’t talked to Bill at length about it yet, but we’re going to try to cooperate in any way we can to talk Turner into giving it a video release. It doesn’t cost very much, and he’ll get the money back, for sure. There’s a thousand zillion bad movies that get released on video, and here’s a really good movie, possibly a minor classic.

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