worn men

by Megan Abbott

I have always had a special affection for Robert Culp, who was a master of a kind of delicious and yet always knowing lightness. He embodied a kind of paradox of seeming both worldly or even world-weary but still taking an immense amount of pleasure in the world—on finest display in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and of course on one of my favorite shows as a kid,Greatest American Hero.

But, for me, one of his most exciting ventures was his directorial foray into neo-noir with 1972’s seldom-screened Hickey & Boggs, which has always seemed to me to have more interesting and subtle things to say about the Vietnam-era decline of the hardboiled hero than Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, which came out the following year.

In a canny bit of stunt casting, Culp costars with his I Spy partner Bill Cosby, from a script by Walter Hill. It’s a dark, mournful ragged little movie and one of those movies whose “flaws” (its meanderingness) are also its strengths. Its rambling nature makes it feel lived in, worn, like the groove of an old scar.

I first saw the movie a while back, from the murky depths of a multi-year immersion into Raymond Chandler and noir and had been hoping one day to revisit it with clearer eyes, and some distance.  This weekend I have my chance, with a screening at the 92nd Street Y-Tribeca this Saturday night, thanks to the efforts of Cullen Gallagher, with the added treat of an intro by writer Duane Swierczynski , nominated this very week for an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for his novel Expiration Date (which, to brag, I was lucky enough to read in advance).

Cullen has a terrific essay on the film here. Summarizing the complicated logic of the film, he writes, “The Private Detective is dead. Long live the Private Detective.”

Another great piece about the film can be found here.

Best of all….re: Mr. Culp…this.

7 Comments to “worn men”

  1. Excellent write-up, Megan. I’m one of the few who saw this initially when it came out in 1972. It’s remained a favorite of mine ever since (even wrote a small blog post about it a while back). I’d also recommend Elizabeth Ward’s piece, Post Noir P.I.: The Long Goodbye and Hickey & Boggs, from FILM NOIR READER (by Alain Silver and James Ursini) as another fine read that compares these two seminal 70s films and their subjects. Thanks for this.

  2. Sorry, I see my recommendation was superfluous as the link to Kit MacFarlane’s marvelous post also references Ward’s piece. Thanks.

  3. Not superfluous at all–so glad to have you here and to read your post! I first read about the movie via Ward when I was working on my dissertation.
    Do you know of any progress in terms of DVD?

  4. I wish I did. The last I read, the rights to the film had been tied up in legal issues for years. As well, I heard that Culp remained very proud of the film. It’s really too bad since he’d have likely contributed a lot to a proper disc release (commentary and the like) before his untimely death. Thanks, Megan.

  5. It is a pretty remarkable film…I haven’t seen it since a tv showing some fifteen years or so ago, but remember it fondly.

    And, of course, as the tribute reminds us, he and former spouse France Nuyen would “interracially” kiss on the odd I SPY episode a year or so before Nichols and Shatner rubbed faces on a STAR TREK everyone loves to cite as supposedly the groundbreaker in such matters on US television. And what a gorgeous couple they made. Although I don’t know them except through their work, I can still feel a bit envious of him, and not just for that brief marriage.

  6. You can’t rent it, but you can watch it online if you subscribe to netflix.

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