(director: Robert Culp; screenwriter: Walter Hill; cinematographer: Bill Butler; editor: David Berlatsky; music: Ted Ashford; cast: Bill Cosby (Al Hickey), Robert Culp (Frank Boggs), Rosalind Cash (Nyona), Carmen (Mary Jane), Louis Moreno (Quemando, prisoner), Michael Moriarty (Ballard), Matt Bennett (Fatboy), Vincent Gardenia (Papadakis), Isabel Sanford (Nyona’s Mother), James Woods (Lt. Wyatt), Lester Fletcher (Rice), Robert Mandan (Brill), Ron Henriquez (Quemando: Florist); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Fouad Said; United Artists; 1972)

“Not a pretty story, but it should bring a smile to Peckinpah.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Culp directs this dark thriller, while Walter Hill wrote the energetic script. Hickey & Boggs teams TV’s I Spy duo of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as down-and-out LA private eyes who take what they think is a simple case for $200 a day plus expenses from an effete lawyer named Rice to find a missing woman, Mary Jane, in which he gives them a list of names to help in their search. When each name on the list is killed, the private eyes find that they become the next targets as they have stumbled into a far more complicated case than first perceived–involving an attempt to fence a suitcase filled with $400,000 from a recent Pittsburgh bank robbery.

The investigating police officers led by Sergeant Papadakis and Lieutenant Wyatt are not pleased that dead bodies keep popping up wherever the two gumshoes appear, and threaten to take away their licenses. The private eyes soon find themselves with a client who disappeared and the discovery that Mary Jane is married to the Quemando brother in prison, the other radical Chicano activist works as a florist. Mary Jane is holding the stolen Pittsburgh money in a suitcase and attempting to fence it, the only trouble is that the bank heist was arranged by mob chief Brill and he wants his money back. The vicious Brill gets his three top soldiers to find her and the money.

Hickey and Boggs learn from the police about the $25,000 reward for the stolen bank money and continue on the case hoping to get the reward. At the empty LA Coliseum on the Rams off-day the duo interrupt a deal going down between Mary Jane and her buyers, but the mob soldiers execute the buyer and nearly get the woman before she escapes with the money. Rice reappears and it is learned he’s a fence who works for Mr. Leroy, the head of a black power group that moved from Watts to Bel-Aire.

The private detectives are warned by all parties to mind their own business, but when Hickey’s estranged wife is slain by the soldiers in an effort to get them off their backs the detective duo vows revenge. Though successful at the end, the detectives feel like losers as they reflect on the changes the modern world has wrought–relating their world as the one of film noir. The duo feels impotent to change the world or do good, their job makes them say in frustration “Nobody cares. It’s about nothing.” These dudes have lost their Raymond Chandler edge of being someone important anymore in this chaotic world. The struggling Hickey was never home for his wife and kid, while Boggs has become a drunk who can’t get over that his stripper wife dumped him and spends his spare time in a drunken glaze torturing himself by attending the dives where she strips.

It’s not a pretty story, but it should bring a smile to Peckinpah.

REVIEWED ON 12/8/2004 GRADE: A-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/