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.