Hickey & Boggs
by Joe Sanders
Now available on DVD from MGM’s Limited Edition Collection
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Hickey & Boggs is a film noir about two private investigators (I Spy’s Bill Cosby and Robert Culp) hired to find a missing woman, Mary Jane (Carmen). The more they investigate Mary Jane, though, the more danger they find themselves in. With trained assassins constantly on their tale, the police constantly getting in the way, and Mary Jane herself apparently plotting against them, Hickey and Boggs have their hands full through most of the film.
There’s a lot of things working really well here, and it’s surprising that the movie never got a proper DVD release. Apparently, it only has a very small cult following, but Bill Cosby alone should be able to bring an audience to the table. Speaking of Cosby, it’s really interesting to see him in this role. He’s smooth and cool, and definitely outside his comfort zone of comedy, but he does a great job here as Al Hickey.
At the other end of the titular scale is Robert Culp, who also directs the film. His portrayal of Hickey’s partner is really where most of the characterization of their relationship comes from. Hickey doesn’t talk much, so it’s left up to Boggs to create the camaraderie between these two characters. He does a very decent job of this, but there are definitely times when the characters’ interactions with each other fall flat.
It’s definitely more reminiscent of every major buddy cop movie that has ever come out than a film noir, but Hickey & Boggs has some uniquely film noir elements, which elevate it above the buddy cop formula. The lighting is purposefully dark, the cinematography is nicely experimental yet understated, and the dialogue is razor sharp and well-delivered. Although, as good as the dialogue is, this film’s greatest asset is its ability to convey meaning in the moments when nobody’s talking. Examples of this can be seen throughout the film and include subtle, hugely character defining moments like Hickey slipping his pocket change under the pillow of his girlfriend’s (Rosaland Cash) daughter’s pillow, or Boggs eating a day old piece of bacon at a crime scene.
The film’s pace is a bit slow. Had they managed to edit out a good 15 to 20 minutes, it would have really tightened this up and made for a great movie. Probably. Even with a more efficient pace, it might not make the plot any easier to follow. It gets confusing at times and makes it easier for the audience to tune out and get bored. But, in either case, the performances here and the filming style make Hickey & Boggs worth your time.
The DVD quality is really good for something transferred from “the best source material available.” It’s standard DVD quality for a film from 1972. Since this is a made to order DVD release from MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, there are no special features, but the opportunity to see this forgotten film for the first time in 40 years feels special.
Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.
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