|Sep 20 2023
Cosby and Culp go all out in gritty detective thriller.
Hickey & Boggs is not a good name for a movie unless it's a buddy action/comedy. You'd never look at the title and think: hardcore crime thriller. It makes us think of one time when we were brainstorming with an actor friend, trying to think of the worst possible title for an action/buddy comedy, and we came up with "Jackson and Frisbee." But title notwithstanding, hardcore drama is what you get with Hickey & Boggs. The plot, courtesy of future 48 Hours director/co-writer Walter Hill, follows two down-at-the-heels dicks played by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as they're hired to locate a missing woman who somehow may hold the key to recovering $400,000 in loot from a bank heist. In typical detective movie fashion, Cosby and Culp deal with cops, crooks, and ambushes as they work their way to the center of a mystery that progresses from danger to personal tragedy.
You'll sometimes see Hickey & Boggs described as a modern film noir, but it doesn't fit the brief. The two detectives are cynical, broke, and alienated, and there are several night sequences, but we're not sure if those elements are enough to automatically make a noir. There's very little high-contrast cinematography, no flashbacks, no narration, no shadowplay, no dream sequences, no extremely skewed angle shots, and no legit femme fatale. Getting into specific iconography, there's no rain, no silhouetting, no mirrors or blinds, no smart aleck bartenders or cab drivers, and virtually no sexual innuendo.
If Hickey & Boggs is a film noir then scores of other 70's crime movies are too, from Serpico to Magnum Force. And if the net is that wide then film noir is a pointless distinction. The American Film Institute, whose categories are expert-derived, calls Hickey & Boggs a drama in the action and detective sub-genres. And, yes, they do categorize neo-noir. Hickey & Boggs didn't make the cut. It's very good, though. It takes an unblinking look at the unglamorous side of Los Angeles and de-mystifies the private dick business—for about the umpteenth time, but very effectively just the same. As long as you're willing to watch Cosby—and we're not suggesting you should be—it's worth your time. It premiered today in 1972.